Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Russia's prime minister to visit Cuba, meet with acting president Raul Castro

International Herald Tribune

The Associated Press

Published: September 27, 2006

HAVANA Russia's prime minister was to arrive to Cuba Wednesday to sign economic agreements and meet with acting President Raul Castro, state-run media reported.

Mikhail Fradkov, the highest-ranking Russian official to come to Cuba since a visit by President Vladimir Putin in 2000, was heading a delegation of Russian business leaders attending an international transport fair in Havana, the Communist Party daily Granma said.

Some 70 representatives of companies from both countries would also be meeting Friday as part of the Russian-Cuban Business Council.

Granma said the trip will let Fradkov "review the actual state of relations between both countries, as well as identify new areas to be amplified and strengthened," the newspaper said.

His official meetings were to take place Thursday and Friday, according to Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency. It was not clear whether international media would have access to the visit. Media reports did not say if he would meet with President Fidel Castro, who is recovering from intestinal surgery.

The Caribbean island exports sugar to Russia as well as vaccines and other products from its advanced biotechnology industry. It is also interested in promoting exchange in the automotive, transportation, aviation and tourism industries.

Under an ideological and economic alliance lasting for three decades, Cuba once received about 20 percent of its gross national product from Soviet subsidies. Its economy has since become more self-sufficient, though it now benefits from strong relations with Venezuela, its current top business partner.

Venezuela predicts trade with Cuba will reach US$1.8 billion (€1.4 billion) this year, including shipments of some 98,000 barrels of oil a day sold under preferential terms including deferred payment. Meanwhile, thousands of Cuban doctors are treating poor Venezuelans for free.

Relations between Russia and Cuba chilled after the Soviet Union's collapse but warmed with Putin's visit in December 2000.

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