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Cuban and Russian leaders huddle in Havana

Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro has met in Havana with Russia’s second-ranking military officer, official media said on Thursday, in a throwback to the Cold War when Cuba was armed and financed by the Soviet Union.
/ Source: Reuters

Cuban Defense Minister Raul Castro has met in Havana with Russia’s second-ranking military officer, official media said on Thursday, in a throwback to the Cold War when Cuba was armed and financed by the Soviet Union.

The chief of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces, Army Gen Yuri Baluyevsky, arrived on Monday for a two week visit. Baluyevsky’s delegation is the highest-ranking to visit Cuba since 1998. The trip comes amid an increase in Cuban defense spending and concerns over the U.S. military posture after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The entire front page of the Communist party daily, Granma, was taken up with a photo of Wednesday’s meeting and commentary describing the encounter as one between old friends.

“The conversation between the two military leaders was cordial and friendly, with both recognizing the historic ties between their two countries,” Granma said.

Baluyevsky is touring military units and installations equipped with vintage Soviet hardware and was expected to vacation on the island as well.

Re-entering the arms market?
The Cuban economy has been recovering from a more than decade-long crisis during which the military budget was cut by at least 50 percent, according to the government.

But defense spending has steadily risen since 2003, as always-tense relations between the Communist nation and the United States deteriorated further.

Cuba has expressed alarm over the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and President George W. Bush’s doctrine of preventive strikes.

Diplomats said Russia had been supplying some spare parts, and little else, to the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, but that could change if Cuba re-entered the arms market in earnest.

Russia recently sold 100,000 AK-47 automatic rifles and other equipment to Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally.

Top Chinese military officials also visited Cuba this year.

“I feel that we are duty-bound to maintain friendly relations with Cuba and not to abandon it at a difficult time for this country,” Baluyevsky told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Monday. “Contacts in the military field will be given new meaning.”