Friday, November 14, 2008

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming

Medvedev to visit Cuba: Kremlin
14 November 2008
Agence France Presse

President Dmitry Medvedev will visit Cuba later this month, the Kremlin said Friday, in Russia's latest move to fortify relations with outspoken US adversaries in Latin America.

Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said the visit would take place on November 27 at the tail end of Medvedev's swing through the region that will also include a stop in Venezuela for talks with US arch-foe Hugo Chavez.

It will be the first visit to Cuba by a Kremlin leader since then-president Vladimir Putin went there in December 2000 nearly a decade after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's Cold-War sponsor.

Though relations cooled dramatically during the 1990s as Russia reeled from the collapse of the communist economy and cut support for Cuba, the two countries have recently shown renewed mutual interest.

"Relations between Russia and Cuba are developing very dynamically," Medvedev said on Tuesday as he met the Cuban foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, at the Kremlin.

"We have moved past the pause of the last decade. Our contacts are very intense. Our relations are very friendly."

The Russian leader used the occasion to announce that Cuban leader Raul Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, would pay a visit to Russia next year.

News of the visit came as a flotilla of Russian warships led by the nuclear-powered destroyer Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) was steaming toward Venezuela for joint naval exercises expected to coincide with Medvedev's visit.

Russian officials have said those manoeuvres, the first high-profile Russian naval presence on the United States' doorstep in generations, would take place sometime in late November.

Timakova said the Russian president would stop in Cuba after attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Lima followed by an official visit to Brazil and his stop in Venezuela.

She said the APEC leaders would discuss a range of issues focusing on economic and trade integration in the Asia-Pacific basin but also including talks on "important and current" security and stability issues there.

Russia has for years been quietly developing its relations with various countries in Latin America, notably Brazil and Venezuela, where cooperation deals have been struck on everything from agriculture to space exploration.

Russian media reported last Sunday that five Russian oil companies had taken equal shares in a deal to produce and refine Venezuelan oil, with the focus on a series of projects in Venezuela's Orinoco region.

A day earlier, the flamboyant Venezuelan leader said he was looking forward to signing nuclear cooperation agreements with Russia.

"Atomic energy. Technology for Venezuela. We are going to have atomic reactors, and they'll soon accuse us of building 100 atomic bombs," Chavez told a rally of supporters in Caracas.

He said Venezuela, one of the world's largest oil exporters, was interested in developing nuclear energy strictly "for peaceful purposes." cb/njc/mjs

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