Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Castro gets warm Russian welcome

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, right, gives Cuba's President Raul Castro a plate of salo
Castro and Medvedev shared the Russian delicacy of salo

Cuban President Raul Castro and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev have reaffirmed their countries' close ties over a traditional dish of pig fat.

Mr Castro is in Moscow for the first visit by a Cuban leader since the end of the Cold War.

He and Mr Medvedev enjoyed vodka and salo - salted pig fat - at a hunting lodge in the forests west of Moscow.

Mr Castro said he wanted to revive strong ties between the nations, which cooled after the collapse of the USSR.

After 1991 the flow of trade and subsidies with which Moscow had supported Cuba's government ended.

But relations have warmed recently. Mr Castro's visit follows one to Havana by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

Mr Castro remembered visiting the same Zavidovo lodge on one of his previous trips, between 1960 and 1984.

"I recalled with nostalgia the moment when we roasted salted salo in the forest," Mr Castro told Mr Medvedev.

"I don't know if I will eat salo with brown bread this time but I am here," he said.

Mr Medvedev duly obliged, and some salo was produced.

Economic interests

Russia was the first country to send humanitarian aid to Cuba after two major hurricanes last year, and the two countries signed major trade deals in November ahead of the visit by Mr Medvedev.

In December, a group of Russian warships visited Havana during a tour of the Caribbean.

Formal talks between the two leaders are scheduled for Friday.

Russia has concrete economic interests in Cuba and a number of business deals are likely to be signed during Mr Castro's visit.

Beyond the economic angle, there is an ideological and political tinge to the visit for both sides
Emilio San Pedro
BBC Americas analyst

Russian oil firms are said to be keen to join international firms drilling off the Cuban coast for oil.

But beyond the economic angle, there is an ideological and political tinge to the visit for both sides, says the BBC's Americas editor Emilio San Pedro.

With its increased involvement in Latin America, Russia has been making it known that it too can play in what the US considers its backyard, in the way Washington has been playing in what Moscow considers its back yard - Eastern Europe - for years, our correspondent says.

Meanwhile, Cuba is letting the newly installed Obama administration know that while it is prepared to look at ways of improving ties with the US, it will not sit with its arms crossed waiting for a move from Washington, our correspondent adds.

It is willing and able to look elsewhere, as it has in the past, to further its aims.

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