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Raul Castro attends Cuba opening of Russian church

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Raul Castro attended the opening of a Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Havana on Sunday in the latest sign of improved relations between Havana and Moscow.

Cuba's President Raul Castro reviews the honor guard during an official reception for East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana September 5, 2008. REUTERS/Claudia Daut

The ceremony was part of activities in Cuba called the Day of Russia in Cuba, and which also included concerts and the screening of feature films and documentaries made in Russia.

The event coincided with the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

“This is a monument to Russian-Cuban friendship and all the efforts that have preserved our relations including the most difficult moments of the Cold War,” Metropolitan Kiril, a permanent member of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church and head of the Moscow Patriarchate Department for External Church Relations, said at the opening.

Russia’s ambassador to Cuba, Mikhail L. Kamynin, told local media that his country will be enhancing economic, cultural and spiritual ties with Cuba and other Latin American countries.

The church will attend mainly to Russians married to Cubans and their children.

The Soviet Union was Cuba’s main benefactor during the Cold War and there was quite a bit of intermarriage over the years. Its collapse in 1991 dealt a devastating blow to the Cuban economy and relations soured but were never broken.

Relations began improving in 2006 when Russia extended Cuba a credit of $355 million to purchase goods and improve its energy infrastructure.

Russia was the Caribbean island’s 10th trading partner in 2007 at nearly $400 million.

Raul Castro met in July with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who was in Cuba seeking to strengthen ties between the former Cold War allies.

Sechin was in Cuba again in September to discuss hurricane relief after the island was struck by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Cuba backed Russia’s recent military push into Georgia.

Russia, angry about a U.S. plan to put a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, recently said it may build a space station in Cuba.

Russia has become an important military supplier and economic partner of Cuba’s strategic ally Venezuela and will conduct joint navel maneuvers with the South American country in the Caribbean next month.

Editing by Bill Trott