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The BBC's Judith Moloney
"A visit charged with symbolism"
 real 56k

The BBC's Tom Gibb in Havana
"They will talk about military co-operation"
 real 28k

Professor Margot Light, London School of Economics
"An indication of a Russia that wants to be more assertive"
 real 28k

Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 04:59 GMT
Putin touches down in Havana
Vladimir Putin posterin Havana
Havana has been waiting for Putin's arrival
Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Cuba, where he is hoping to forge a new relationship with the communist island.

He touched down at Havana airport late on Wednesday, where he was greeted by Cuban President Fidel Castro, as well as the president's brother, Defence Minister Raul Castro, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

Mr Putin, the first Russian president to visit Cuba since the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade ago, is expected to discuss trade and ways to settle the island's debt with Russia.

Now is the time to re-establish our ties, which serve Russia's economic interests

President Putin

Earlier this week, the Russian president described Cuba as "an old friend and faithful partner", and lamented that the two countries were not as close as they once were.

He also emphasised that his interest was in seeking practical business deals, rather than an ideological agenda.

Soviet projects

"Unfortunately for us, in the years when our economic contacts collapsed, many important aspects of our mutual activity where squandered," Mr Putin told Russian and Cuban reporters.

Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro
Still comrades? Vladimir Putin got a warm welcome from Fidel Castro
"And the position of Russian enterprises were taken by foreign competitors," he added.

Russian trade with Cuba is estimated at just under $1bn per year, less than a third of what it was at the time of the Soviet collapse.

Among other business deals, Mr Putin is expected to promote his country's participation in completing the construction of Soviet-era projects, such as the Las Camariocas nickel plant and the Cienfuegos oil refinery.

Another issue believed to be on the agenda during the president's five-day visit is Cuba's estimated $11bn debt with Moscow.

Spy visit

Presidents Putin and Castro are scheduled to hold a formal meeting on Thursday morning.

Mr Putin is later expected to meet other officials before a ceremony at Cuba's monument to the Unknown Soviet Soldier.

Some reports suggest the Russian head of state will also visit a Russian electronic station outside Havana which is used to spy on the United States.

Mr Putin will spend the weekend at the beach resort of Varadero on a private break, before travelling on to Canada.

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See also:

13 Dec 00 | Americas
Our comrades in Havana
21 Nov 00 | Business
IMF: No deal with Russia
28 Oct 00 | Americas
US eases Cuba embargo
27 Apr 00 | Americas
What's life really like in Cuba?
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