Russia, Cuba sign host of deals to boost ties

Cold War allies Russia and Cuba signed a host of agreements on Friday in a bid to revive ties and improve economic cooperation.
MOSCOW, January 30 (RIA Novosti) - Cold War allies Russia and Cuba signed a host of agreements on Friday in a bid to revive ties and improve economic cooperation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Cuban leader Raul Castro, who is on his first visit to Moscow since 1985, signed a memorandum on "strategic" cooperation in the Kremlin. The two countries also signed agreements to grant the Caribbean state a $20 million loan and provide food aid.

Speaking to reporters after the Kremlin talks, Russia's deputy prime minister said Cuba would use the loan to buy Russian-made construction, electricity-generating and agricultural equipment.

Igor Sechin also said Russia's flagship air carrier Aeroflot and Cuba's largest airline Cubana de Aviacion were considering setting up a joint venture.

Russia's foreign trade bank Vnesheconombank (VEB) said on Friday it had opened credit lines totaling $44.5 million to fund the purchases of Tu-204CE civilian cargo aircraft and equipment by Cuba.

Speaking about the food deliveries, Sechin said Russia could supply an additional 100,000 metric tons of grain to Cuba as part of a humanitarian food aid plan, after the country was badly affected by two tropical hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, in September 2008.

A Kremlin official said earlier Russia planned to send 25,000 metric tons of grain to Cuba "to alleviate the acute food problem."

Over 30 documents were signed as part of Castro's Russian visit, to continue into February 4, including memos on cooperation in trade, education, sport and tourism.

Opening the talks earlier on Friday, Medvedev said the two countries should increase their trade turnover, which currently stands at a "meager" $239 million.

He said Castro's visit would "open up a new page in the history of Russian-Cuban relations." And the Cuban leader called their talks "historic" and a "milestone event" in bilateral ties.

Relations between Russia and Cuba stalled after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when Russia faced by financial difficulties halted huge Soviet-era subsidies and trade.

In recent years, Russia has moved to revive ties with Cuba, as well as other Latin American states. Medvedev visited Havana in November, and a Russian anti-submarine destroyer and two logistical warships docked in Cuba in December.

On Thursday, the two leaders enjoyed a nostalgia-tinted informal meeting at the presidential Soviet-era country residence at Zavidovo.

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