Moscow and Havana look to strengthen political and economic links

Vladimir Putin and Miguel Diaz-Canel to tighten bonds in face of US sanctions

Cuba’s  Miguel Diaz-Canel shakes hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin  in the Kremlin during his state visit. Photograph: Sergei Chirikov

Cuba’s Miguel Diaz-Canel shakes hands with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin during his state visit. Photograph: Sergei Chirikov

 

Russia has rolled out the welcome mat for the visiting Cuban leader, Miguel Diaz-Canel, promising to bolster political and economic ties even as its traditional Caribbean ally faces tighter US sanctions.

Mr Diaz Canel arrived on a three-day state visit to Moscow on Thursday, his first foreign trip outside the Caribbean region since becoming president of Cuba in April.

Cuba is facing increasing economic pressure as the US rolls out fresh financial sanctions to punish the communist country for allegedly repressing its citizens.

Close ties between Russia and Cuba dated back to the Soviet era and had always been “strategic in character”, President Vladimir Putin told Mr Diaz-Canel, during talks in the Kremlin on Friday. “We are united in friendship, joint support and help.”

In a joint statement issued after the talks, Mr Putin and Mr Diaz-Canel denounced “US interference in the domestic affairs of sovereign nations” and called for closer integration between Russia and Latin-American nations.

Mr Putin said that Russia would take steps to boost trade with Cuba and participate in a sweeping programme to modernise the country’s economy.

Railroads and energy

Russian companies would help Cuba upgrade its railroads and broaden co-operation in the energy sector, the Kremlin said in a statement. The two countries would also consider defence co-operation.

During the cold war, the Soviet Union provided communist Cuba with an economic lifeline as its strongest ally in Latin America came under a protracted US trade embargo.

However, support withered after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 leaving Russia unable to afford to continue subsidising Cuba.

Mr Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-era intelligence-gathering facility near the Cuban capital Havana in 2001 as part of a campaign to establish closer relations with the US during his first presidential term. However, after the US began imposing sanctions on Russia over Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin began rebuilding former ties with Cuba.

‘Troika of tyranny’

US president Donald Trump has rolled back moves towards a rapprochement with Cuba initiated in 2016 by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Detailing tough new sanctions this week, John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, slammed Cuba as part of a “troika of tyranny” that included Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, made common cause with Mr Diaz-Canel on Friday, saying Russia understood how difficult it was for Cuba to develop while under a US embargo.

Mr Diaz-Canel said Russia could count on Cuban support in the face of “unjust” sanctions. “It is important to build bridges in the world not walls,” he told Mr Volodin.