The Biden administration responded Thursday to threats from Russian officials that Moscow could begin military deployments in Cuba and Venezuela if tensions continue to rise with the United States, vowing a "decisive" response if it sees any evidence that the threat is real.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, told state television Thursday that he could "neither confirm nor exclude" the potential deployments. Russian media followed up on the remarks with a report that agents from Russia's spy agency, the FSB, had visited the two Western Hemisphere countries in recent days.
"We are not going to respond to bluster," a senior administration official told McClatchy and the Miami Herald. "If Russia actually started moving in that direction, we would deal with it decisively."
Tensions have been rising between Washington and Moscow since December, when Russia began amassing tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine. Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin, have not ruled out an invasion.
Talks have taken place between Russian, American, European and NATO officials over the past three days across Europe, but officials have not reported any breakthroughs.
The Associated Press was first to report on Ryabkov's comments.
Some Cuban exiles have been closely watching the Biden administration's standoff with Russia and China, with the hopes that a new geopolitical realignment would entice the Biden administration to claim Cuba in the U.S. circle of influence and more actively seek regime change on the island. Ryabkov's comments could add to the speculation that the Caribbean island could again become entangled in a replay of the Cuban missile crisis.
The governments of Cuba and Venezuela have not publicly responded to the comments. The Cuban Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As tensions grew between Havana and Washington during the Trump administration, Russia has become closer to the communist island, approving loans and increasing military cooperation.
A senior-level official of the Russian Ministry of Defense quoted by the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council estimated that a "robust" presence in Cuba would bring millions in spending for infrastructure upgrades of airports and ports.
The Russian official estimated that the economic impact of having up to 2,500 Russian civilian and military forces in Cuba could bring $100 million annually to the Cuban government. Russia could also pay an additional fee to Cuban authorities as it did in the past for hosting the Lourdes intelligence listening post near Havana.
Russia also increased its economic involvement in the oil sector in Venezuela, helping the country skirt U.S. sanctions. According to U.S. officials at the time, Russia also played a role in convincing Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro to stay in power when the opposition attempted to flip top military leaders in 2019.
Venezuela's interim government led by Juan Guaidó, which the United States recognizes as the country's legitimate authority, rejected Ryabkov's comments in "categorical" terms.
"The fact that a high-ranking official of that country has insinuated an action of this scale represents an absolute transgression to national sovereignty and the integrity of our territory," the interim government said in a statement. "Venezuela cannot be used as a pawn in a geopolitical game between the powers of the world."