Russia gives hero's welcome to five Cuban spies released from U.S. jail

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia gave a red-carpet reception to five Cuban spies who served long prison terms in the United States, hailing them on Tuesday as heroes “of fortitude and resistance” and stressing its own role in securing their release.

The Cuban Five were convicted of spying on Cuban exiles in Florida at a time when anti-Castro groups were bombing Cuban hotels and staging acts of sabotage meant to destabilize the communist government.

Cuban President Raul Castro last year named the five spies Heroes of the Republic, the Cuban government’s highest honor, for infiltrating right-wing exile groups that plotted against Havana after a 1959 uprising led by his brother Fidel Castro ousted a pro-U.S. dictator.

The Soviet Union was Cuba’s powerful international patron during the Cold War when Havana moved to nationalize U.S. businesses and embraced socialist ideas. Moscow’s economic and military aid dried up after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

“We met earlier with some of your comrades, and I am very glad that now all of you are visiting Moscow,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said as he greeted the five in the foreign ministry’s Stalin-era building in central Moscow.

“We had been consistently pressing (for your release), including in our contacts with the Americans, and we are glad that in the long run our participation in your release turned out to be useful and yielded results,” Lavrov said. He called the five “a symbol of fortitude and resistance”.

On Monday, the group attended a military parade on Red Square to mark the 71st anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat by the Soviet Union and were to meet heads of Russia’s parliament and the communist party, Lavrov said.

Following the reversal of U.S. policy toward Cuba under President Barack Obama who called for normalization of ties, three of the five Cuban spies were freed on Dec. 17, 2014, in an exchange for a Cuban man who had been jailed nearly 20 years for spying on his own country for the Americans.

That same day Cuba released American aid worker Alan Gross in a humanitarian gesture after he had been held five years for bringing banned telecommunications equipment into Cuba.

The other two Cubans had been released earlier after serving their terms.

(This version of the story corrects description of anti-Castro groups in paragraph two)

Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Richard Balmfofrth