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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met with Cuban President Raul Castro in Cuba
Not long after arriving in Havana around 2050 GMT from Venezuela, Medvedev held two rounds of official talks -- one private and one between the two countries' delegations -- at the imposing Palace of the Revolution.

Then the Cuban president, who maintains a low public profile, and Medvedev paid a visit to the new Russian Orthodox cathedral in colonial Old Havana, with bells tolling and security tight.

It marks the last stop for Medvedev on a four-nation trip, including Peru, Brazil and Venezuela, where he visited Russian warships due to carry out joint maneuvers next week.

It was unclear whether Medvedev, on the first visit by a Russian leader to Cuba since 2000, would also meet ailing former president Fidel Castro, 82.

The visit could be light on substance: there were no agreements scheduled to be signed though the countries do have cooperation in fields such as oil, nickel, telecommunications, biotechnology and tourism.

Medvedev's Latin America tour largely has sought to boost trade, despite the world economic slowdown, but was also seen as a rebuff to US moves in formally Communist-ruled parts of Europe, such as planned missile defense facilities.

The Russian leader arrived from Venezuela, where he signed a string of accords, including a nuclear energy deal, with anti-US President Hugo Chavez.

Medvedev is only the second Russian president to travel to Cuba after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to a decade of distant relations broken by a visit by former president Vladimir Putin in 2000.

But Putin's decision to close a Russian spy base in Lourdes, south of Havana, in 2001, created a new chill in relations that lasted until 2007, when Moscow showed a new interest in Latin America.

Medvedev's visit follows an accelerated process of reconciliation, including new deals on military, energy, telecommunications and transport ties.

"Cuba has been and will continue to be one of our key partners in Latin America," Medvedev said after hosting Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in Russia this month.

"Relations are developing in a very dynamic way," Medvedev said on announcing a planned trip by Raul Castro to Russia in 2009.

The Russian ambassador said Saturday that the country was negotiating major investments in Cuba's oil and nickel industries, with deals under consideration with specific Russian firms to search for oil offshore in Cuba's exclusive economic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

Since Raul Castro replaced his ailing brother, who held Cuba's helm for five decades, he has implemented minor and not radical systemic economic changes. The government controls the economy and media, and still outlaws opposition forces.

Earlier this month, Russia granted Cuba a 20-million-dollar trade credit as part of agreements on oil, mining and transport, during a visit by Russian deputy premier Igor Sechin.

In a Russian drive in the region after an Asia-Pacific summit in Peru earlier this month, Medvedev also visited Brazil, and his foreign minister, Serguei Lavrov, stopped off in Colombia and Ecuador.

Russia sees Latin America as a "center of economic growth," Lavrov said Thursday in Quito.

Medvedev's visit to Cuba follows a trip by Chinese President Hu Jintao, who put off some of Cuba's debt payments and agreed to cooperation deals to strengthen ties between the two communist nations.


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