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Putin revives old Cuban flame and eyes Latin American minerals

© AFP | Vladimir Putin (left) and Raul Castro on Friday.

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-12

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the Soviet Union's Cold War ally Cuba on Friday, launching a tour that will see him cozy up to Latin America amid newly frayed relations with the West.

Putin's six-day trip will also take him to Argentina and Brazil, where he will take part in a summit of the BRICS group of emerging countries -- an agenda that neatly aligns with his push for a multipolar world at a time when the Ukraine crisis has brought Moscow-Washington relations to a post-Cold War low.

Putin said before his trip that he has his eye on Latin America's oil and bauxite, and plans to woo regional leaders with offers of increased Russian investment and trade in return.

Moscow is seeking comprehensive technological partnerships with Latin America in the oil and gas sector, hydropower, nuclear energy, aircraft construction and the bio pharmaceutical industry, Putin told Cuba's state news agency Prensa Latina.

Analysts say he will also use the tour to thumb his nose at Brussels and Washington, which have slapped sanctions on some of his closest allies over Moscow's takeover of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Putin and Cuban President Raul Castro witnessed the signing of a dozen bilateral agreements in areas such as energy, industry, health and disaster prevention.

Russian companies will participate in petroleum projects around Boca de Jaruco on the island's north coast, and that cooperation will extend to offshore oil deposits, Cuban government website Cubadebate said.

Putin meets Castro
Cuban government handout photo/AFP

Joint plans also include creating air and sea transport hubs in Cuba and supplying equipment for two Cuban thermoelectric plants worth $1.6 billion.

"We are talking about the possibility of creating in Cuba a grand transportation hub with a possible modernization of the maritime port of Mariel and the construction of a modern airport with its respective cargo terminal,'' Putin said, according to an official Spanish translation of his remarks in Russian.

Putin meets Fidel Castro

The Russian leader also met Castro's older brother Fidel, the 87-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution.

According to Russian sources, Putin said they had a "long and very interesting conversation" of about one hour on international politics and bilateral relations. Cuban media published photographs of the meeting.

In recent years, Moscow has sought to revive ties with the Caribbean island, whose economy has been saddled with a US embargo since 1962 and is growing less than the government expected, despite recent free-market reforms.

Ahead of the visit, Russia wrote off 90 percent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt of more than $30 billion.

Havana for its part has sided with its old ally Russia in the Ukraine conflict.

"In the international arena, we agree with the current policy of strength and political intelligence that the Soviet Union – I mean Russia – is carrying out,'' Raul Castro said

After his one-day stop in Havana, Putin dropped in unexpectedly on Nicaragua, and was scheduled then to fly to Buenos Aires, where analysts say he will likely seek a stake in Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale formation, an oil and gas field estimated to contain the equivalent of 22.8 billion barrels of oil, potentially one of the largest finds in history.

World Cup final and BRICS summit

Argentina, locked out of capital markets since defaulting on its debt in 2001, desperately needs foreign investment.

President Cristina Kirchner will be keen to tap Russian capital at a time when her government is fighting to stay solvent in the face of a US court order to pay more than $1.3 billion by the end of the month to "holdout" hedge funds refusing to take part in the restructuring of the country's defaulted debt.

Putin has also invited Argentina to take a seat at the table when Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS group -- hold a summit next week in Brazil.

But first he will attend the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

At the end of the tournament, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will officially hand over World Cup responsibilities to Putin, whose country hosts the next edition in 2018.

Moscow says he will likely also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday.

The Kremlin has sought to play Germany against the US in the Ukraine crisis, leveraging Berlin's dependence on Russian gas in a bid to fend off more Western sanctions.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

Date created : 2014-07-12

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