MOSCOW (TBEN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Cuban counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, where the two unveiled a monument to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and hailed “traditional friendship” between their sanctioned nations.
A video published on the Kremlin’s website showed Putin and Cuba’s head of state, Miguel Díaz-Canel y Bermúdez, giving speeches while Russian military guards flanked a bronze statue of Castro.
The late Castro embraced Soviet-style communism after spearheading a revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in 1959. He then braved a crippling US embargo and dozens of assassination attempts during his half-century of rule on the island, before dying in 2016 at the age of 90.
In a speech, Putin underscored Castro’s history of defiance, praising him for “selflessly defending the sovereignty of (his) native country” and drawing parallels to Western sanctions imposed on Russia over its military campaign in Ukraine.
“The Soviet Union and Russia have always, and continue to this day, support the Cuban people in their struggle for independence and sovereignty. We have always resisted all kinds of restrictions, embargoes, blockades and so on. We have always supported Cuba on the international stage and we see Cuba taking the same stance towards Russia,” Putin said.
Other top Russian officials struck similar tones during their meetings with Díaz-Canel, who arrived in Moscow on Saturday.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s parliament, called Cuba “a symbol of the independence struggle” during talks on Tuesday, according to a lecture published on the State Duma’s website.
Russian government agencies also quoted Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s powerful Security Council and a former president, as saying that “no sanctions can hold back the development of Cuba and the Russian Federation,” when he met with the Cuban leader on Monday.
According to the State Duma reading, Díaz-Canel claimed that “Russia can always count on Cuba” during his meeting with Volodin on Tuesday, and condemned US sanctions against Moscow as “coercive” and “unfair”.
Díaz-Canel began his foreign visit last Wednesday in Algeria, where he negotiated support for the Cuban energy sector, including an undetermined amount of oil purchase and the donation of a solar power plant. He will travel on to Turkey and China.
Trade between Cuba and Russia amounted to about $500 million in 2019, as then-Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov stated during a visit to the island that year.
Cuban state media reported that Díaz-Canel’s agenda will focus on the energy sector, which is very sensitive for the island as it battles food, medicine and fuel shortages. Hours of daily blackouts have occurred in Cuba’s largest cities, sparking protests.
The Cuban government has acknowledged the problem, accusing US sanctions, which were tightened under former President Donald Trump, of creating poverty and indirectly fueling protests.
Havana’s main regional political ally, Venezuela, has sold the island the oil Cuba has needed for the past two decades. Cuba produces only half of the oil it needs for its economy.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Soviet Union offered Cuba many important imports: fertilizer, industrial equipment, spare parts, and especially oil in exchange for sugar.
When the old alliance fell apart in the 1990s, Cuba owed Russia some $35 billion, 90% of which was forgiven by the Putin administration in 2014. The balance was refinanced.
Havana correspondent Andrea Rodríguez contributed to this report.