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Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday met with Cuba's Raul Castro to push for more pragmatic political and trade relations than when the two countries were ideological allies.

"During this time there have been different stages in our relations. Now, relations have become more pragmatic," said Putin at the beginning of the meeting with Castro at his country residence of Novo-Ogariovo, on the outskirts of Moscow.

Putin, who upon coming to power in 2000 ended a decade of Russian neglect of the island after the collapse of the Soviet Union, called Cuba a "traditional partner."

"We're very happy to see you. I want to ask you to convey my best wishes to our great friend Fidel Castro," said the Russian leader, referring to Raul's older brother and predecessor.

Meanwhile, the president of still-communist Cuba, who was arriving in Moscow on a foreign tour that has also taken him to China and Vietnam, emphasized that his visit to Russia "is intensive and very important."

"For me, it's always pleasant to come here and visit old friends," said the Cuban president, who thanked the Russian leaders for the swiftness with which they organized the visit, which was agreed to during his recent trip to Brazil.

This is Raul Castro's second visit to Russia since he assumed the leadership of Cuba in 2006.

According to the Kremlin, the aim of the visit is to find ways to increase and diversify commercial exchange through various projects and joint companies in sectors such as energy, transportation, telecommunications and pharmaceuticals.

"The amount of trade does not correspond with the potential," said Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov, who added that bilateral trade volume was $224.1 million in 2011.

Russian oil company Zarubezhneft has plans to invest $2.9 billion over the next 13 years in exploiting Cuban deposits that were opened up by Soviet specialists some years ago.

The Gazpromneft consortium is also carrying out oil exploitation operations on the island while electric power firm Inter RAO EES has plans to create a mixed company with Cuban state utility Union Energetica to modernize the power plant in Mariel, where a new port is being constructed.

Source: Latino

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