MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Raul Castro on Wednesday began the first visit to Russia by a Cuban leader since the end of the Cold War, the latest sign of reviving ties between the two former close allies.
Castro stepped off a jet into Moscow’s freezing weather to be greeted by a military band and a salute.
“From this visit, we hope to strengthen and consolidate what we have already achieved together, and it is necessary to make one more step in this direction,” Castro said in an interview shown on Russia’s state-run Vesti 24 television channel.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia and Cuba plan to sign a number of agreements. These would promote cooperation in trade, economic, financial, investment, cultural and humanitarian areas, he said on the ministry’s Web site.
Lavrov said Russia’s interest in Cuba is economic, underlining its changing role in the island from an ideological partner to one of trade.
Raul, the younger brother of ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, was expected to meet President Dmitry Medvedev at his country residence just outside Moscow on Thursday. The Kremlin chief visited Havana last November.
The two leaders would also sign several agreements on oil cooperation, Russian news agency Prime Tass reported.
Russian oil firms want to drill offshore in the Caribbean and the military has talked about cooperation with Havana on air defense systems.
However, the Kremlin is keen that future relations should be on a free-market basis — meaning that the generous soft loans and grants given by Russia to its Caribbean ally during communist times will not be on offer now.
The last time a Cuban leader visited Russia was Fidel Castro’s trip to Moscow in 1986 for a Communist Party congress.
Moscow was Communist-run Cuba’s main benefactor during the Cold War and recent state visits by both sides suggest they want to rekindle something of their alliance, which subsided after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
After a long period of neglect, the Kremlin took a new interest in Latin America last year. Medvedev visited Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Cuba and Moscow has developed a strong alliance with U.S. foe President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Additional reporting by Michael Stott