Russia and Cuba are strengthening ties again, after a break which followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union supplied Cuba with oil – up to 13 mn tons each year – and quantities of arms. In return, it received Cuban tobacco, coffee, fruit and sugar and enjoyed the right to build and operate military facilities on Cuban territory. After the Soviet collapse, however, these exchanges went downhill. The oil was cut off. In the early 90s, Russia shut its military training centre in Cuba. In 2002, it also closed its signals intelligence centre near the Cuban town of Lourdes, withdrawing all 1,000 of its personnel from the facility.
The millennium turn was the low point of the relationship. Under Vladimir Putin, however, Russian-Cuban ties started to pick up again. In 2000, Vladimir Putin visited Havana. In 2006, during a Havana visit by Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Cuba’s Soviet-era debts to Russia were finally settled, and Cuba also received a $335mn Russian credit line which allowed it to procure spare parts for some of the Soviet-made machinery and weaponry in its possession. In 2009, Cuban President Raul Castro visited Moscow. This Wednesday, he arrived again, amid summertime heat which he said reminded him of Havana.
After discussing matters with Prime Minister Medvedev, he proceeded to the suburban retreat of President Vladimir Putin.
This is what the Russian leader had to say:
“Some time ago, Russia and Cuba marked 110 years since they established diplomatic ties. These 110 years have seen ups and downs in relations, but at present, the relations are on the rise. Although pragmatic, they do not negate the positive legacy of the past. We are glad to welcome you. I do hope we will be able to review the entire spectrum of Russian-Cuban relations.”
The Russian President also used the occasion to extend his best wishes to veteran Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
Mr Raul Castro said he was looking forward to a very productive Moscow visit:
“We live in a very complex and rapidly changing world. During my previous visit, we devoted time to the challenges faced by our countries in 2009. Today, we are discussing the current situation. I’m always happy to meet with my old friends in the Russia capital. I expect my working visit to be very busy and highly useful.”
After meeting with Mr Putin, Mr Raul Castro is to meet with head of Russia’s National Security Council Nikolai Patrushev.
The annual trade between Russia and Cuba has already topped $220mn and continues to grow. Importantly, it is not limited to arms sales. Russia’s Gazpromneft is drilling for oil and gas in the Cuban sector of the Gulf of Mexico. Other Russian companies are helping Cuba develop electricity generation.
Last year also saw a 30% increase in Russian tourist visits to Cuba. Russian holidaymaking on the island is rapidly catching up with European and Canadian ones.