Love affair between Russia and Cuba heats up again
Russia-Cuba love affair on again
Trade, politics, culture and history are leading to warmer relations between the Cold War allies.
Like lovers who quarrel and then kiss and make up, Cuba and Russia are falling into each other’s embrace again, bringing back memories of their more than 30 years as the warmest of Cold War allies.
The renewed love affair was in full display when Russian President Vladimir Putin met with both Fidel and Raúl Castro and signed a dozen agreements during a visit to Havana that launched his six-day swing through Latin America.
“This is not surprising. Cuba and Russia were allies for many years and remain the most natural of allies, much more so than China,” said Alcibiades Hidalgo, a Miami journalist who served as chief of staff for Raúl Castro, Cuba’s current ruler.
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika marked the breaking point in the Cold War alliance, when the communist empire collapsed and Moscow cut subsidies to Havana estimated at $4 billion to $6 billion a year. Cuba plunged into recession and an angry Fidel Castro denounced Gorbachev as a traitor to socialism.
Putin, then in his first term as president of Russia, made things worse in 2000 when he visited Havana to press Cuba to repay its $32 billion Soviet-era debt and announce that he would close the Lourdes electronic eavesdropping base near Havana. Fidel Castro refused to pay. Lourdes was slowly shuttered in 2001 and 2002.
Bilateral relations began warming after Raúl Castro, described by Hidalgo as an admirer of all things Russian, succeeded brother in 2006 and visited Russia in 2009 and again in 2012.
But the rekindled embrace blossomed during Putin’s visit this month to the lone communist-ruled nation in the Western Hemisphere, when he signed a dozen agreements that fell neatly in line with Cuba’s interest in new credits, trade and investments.
Russia wrote off all but $3.2 billion of the debt and announced a $1.6 billion credit for construction of four power plants. The oil companies Rosneft and Zarubezhneft promised to resume the exploration for crude in the deep waters off Cuba’s northwestern coast. There were even reports — and denials — that Russia also had agreed to reopen the Lourdes base and resume eavesdropping on U.S. communications.
“We will provide support to our Cuban friends to overcome the illegal blockade,” Putin declared in Havana, referring to the U.S. embargo. Raúl Castro replied that the debt write-off showed “the palpable generosity of the Russian people toward Cuba” and added that the Castro revolution would not have survived without Soviet aid.
Beyond the economic and political factors, however, there are cultural and historical affinities that the two nations nourished between 1960, when they established diplomatic relations, and 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
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