Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cuba-Russia deal called `key landmark'

Posted on Saturday, 01.31.09
Cuba-Russia deal called `key landmark'
Russia and Cuba signed deals that give Cuba agricultural aid.
Miami Herald staff and wire reports

Cuba and Russia rekindled old bonds Friday with deals that will give the
struggling island nation a much-needed boost -- including tens of
thousands of tons of grain.

The agreement came during an eight-day trip by Cuban President Raúl
Castro to Moscow. The Cuban leader had last visited 24 years ago, when
the former Soviet Union was pouring billions into Cuba's economy.

''Undoubtedly this is a very important moment,'' Castro said, ``a key
landmark in relations between Russia and Cuba.''

The latest deal comes after months of exchanges -- including a visit by
Russian war ships to Havana -- and underscores a relationship fostered
by mutual need.


Castro held Kremlin talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. His
trip highlighted Kremlin efforts to expand its clout and reinvigorate
Soviet-era alliances.

''I think there is a symbiotic relationship there. Russia needs
allies,'' said Janisset Rivero, who traveled the world speaking against
Raúl and Fidel Castro on behalf of the Cuban Democratic Directorate, a
Miami exile human-rights group. ``Cuba needs oxygen. Cuba needs money.
Cuba needs to legitimize itself. This type of deal gives it that type of
entree, which it should not have.''

Reuters news agency reported Russia agreed to a $20 million loan to Cuba
to buy Russian construction, energy and agricultural equipment.

The agency said financing was agreed to for the delivery of Tupolev 204
civilian aircraft, and Russia will donate at least 25,000 tons of grain
to help resolve food problems on the island. And Russian power company
Inter RAO signed an agreement to build a power station in Cuba.

The Soviet Union poured billions of dollars into its staunchest Latin
American ally during the Cold War, but ties languished after the 1991
Soviet collapse and the Cuban economy imploded.

Emboldened by oil wealth, Russia has sought to project its power into
the Western Hemisphere, but that effort has fallen as oil prices have
plummeted in recent months, and it may have trouble bankrolling its old

Most experts view the renewed ties as Moscow's way of needling Washington.


''The Cubans will take cash from anybody,'' said Frank Mora, a Cuba
expert at the National War College in Washington, D.C. ``Russians are
willing to give $20 million? Absolutely. Technical assistance? Come on
board. They will take anything tangible from Russia or anybody else for
that matter.

'This rapprochement is driven by two motivations: the Russians' broader
interest in the world, and the Cubans' 'I'll take cash from wherever I
can get it as long as there are no conditions.' ''

Welcoming Castro to an ornate Kremlin hall, Medvedev said the talks
offer a chance to rebuild the old friendship. ''Your visit will turn a
new page in the history of Russia-Cuba relations'' and take them to a
''new, strategic level,'' he said. He visited Cuba in November.

Rens Lee, a scholar at the Kennan Institute of Advanced Russian Studies
and a frequent traveler to Cuba, said the United States needs to keep a
close eye on the budding relationship: Russia could use it to build a
nearby intelligence base.

''We have been playing around lighting fires in their backyard, so maybe
Russia's efforts in Cuba are sort of their way of showing us they can
play in our sandbox as well,'' Lee said. ``Looking down the road, the
long-term implications are something we need to watch very carefully. If
we simply persist in treating Cuba the way we have for the last 50
years, I think the Russians will take advantage of this.''

Miami Herald staff writer Frances Robles contributed to this report from

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