By Michael Stott and Gleb Bryanski | Reuters)
Cuban President Raul Castro hailed the “very positive” results of his visit to Moscow, the first by a Cuban leader since the Cold War, after winning aid pledges of $354 million.
“I think we are leaving very satisfied,” Castro, 77, said at the start of talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, part of an eight-day trip to Moscow to help revive ties that waned after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The head of the Finance Ministry’s State Debt Department, Konstantin Vyshkovsky, told Reuters Russia had agreed to provide Havana with $270 million in soft loans, mostly to buy and lease Russian agricultural and construction machinery.
“We are not giving any money to Cuba. It is not typical in our policy to issue loans. Our common rule is support for domestic producers, exporters,” Vyshkovky said, declining to say which manufacturers will supply the equipment.
Another $37 million worth of Russian grain will be given to Havana as aid, Vyshkovsky said. On top of that, he confirmed a report that state bank VEB would provide $47 million to sell a Russian-built cargo plane to Cuba.
During the Cold War, Moscow provided large amounts of aid to prop up Cuba’s economy. It also kept a military presence on the island, much to the chagrin of Cuba’s close neighbour, the United States.
Moscow’s Cuban alliance quickly wilted in the economic chaos which gripped Russia after the end of communist rule. Putin ordered the closure in 2002 of Russia’s last military base in Cuba, a radar station, as a cost-cutting move.
Vyshkovsky said Cuba still owed Russia $130 million as part of a debt restructuring agreement struck in the 1990s. He said Cuba took a new $335 million loan in 2006.
Both sides have stepped up links over the past year against a backdrop of worsening Russian relations with the United States and a diplomatic push by Moscow in Latin America.
Russian oil companies want to drill in the sea around Cuba and its military has talked about air defence cooperation with the Cubans.
Soon after a visit by President Dmitry Medvedev to Cuba in November, a Russian warship arrived in Havana Bay for the first time since the Cold War.
In comments at the opening of Monday’s meeting, both leaders voiced satisfaction at growing cooperation.
“I very much hope the agreements reached during this visit will be implemented,” Putin said at the start of the meeting, which lasted about 90 minutes.
“Not just the agreements on loans, but in the real sector,” he said, citing cooperation in oil, communications, machine-building and GLONASS satellite navigation—Moscow’s answer to the United States’ Global Positioning System (GPS).
Castro said “all the negotiations have taken place in a positive atmosphere and all (the obstacles) have been overcome.”
Castro also praised the role of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin in growing ties between the countries.
Though nominally responsible for Russia’s energy industry, Sechin is regarded as one of Putin’s top lieutenants and the head of the hawkish “siloviki” government clan, which has close ties to the military and intelligence services.
Neither side has disclosed any information about possible new military links between Moscow and Havana.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Janet McBride)