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 Russia restores its relationship with Cuba
The visit was the last stop on the Russian president’s tour of Latin America that, according to experts, was designed to teach the US a lesson: Russia wants to show that it is prepared to meddle in Washington’s backyard, in response to US support for governments such as Ukraine and Georgia that Russia considers to be part of its sphere of influence.

Julia Swaig, director of Latin America studies at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said: “Against the backdrop of last summer’s moves in Georgia, the Russian initiative in Venezuela and Cuba has the air of a geopolitical tweak for Washington, and presumably president-elect Obama’s consumption.”

Cuba, which has been under US economic sanctions for decades because of its communist government, was the most sensitive destination on Mr Medvedev’s itinerary. The Russian and Cuban presidents discussed joint projects, such as plans to search for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as ventures in pharmaceuticals, tourism and transport, the official Cuban media said. “Our relations are excellent,” Mr Castro told the press. Mr Medvedev agreed and said he expected to see Mr Castro in Moscow early next year to sign new agreements.

The visit capped a series of high-level Cuban-Russian contacts this year. Igor Sechin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, has been to Cuba three times. On each occasion he also visited Havana’s closest ally Venezuela, a big importer of Russian arms and a thorn in the side of the US.

In recent months Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian security council, and General Alexander Maslov, head of the Russian army’s air defences, have also met Mr Castro in Havana.

“This level of contact signals major agreements are on the table,” a western diplomat said. “The big question is what’s in it, what’s the military component, and how far is Cuba willing to go given their past experience with the Russians?”

Russian diplomats in Cuba said Moscow’s interest in Havana was motivated by more than geopolitics. It wanted a long-term economic partnership with Cuba as part of efforts to broaden ties in Latin America – seen as increasingly adrift from US influence.

Russia’s support for Cuba ended abruptly with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, leaving Cubans bitter. But officials in Havana seemed happy to be courted once again.

Mr Mevdevev visited Peru, Brazil and Venezuela before arriving in Havana, pushing energy, broader trade and arm sales. He insisted that while touring Russian war ships docked in Venezuela, his mission was “humanitarian, economic and peaceful”.

(Financial Times)

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