MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Cuban counterpart in Moscow on Tuesday, where they unveiled a monument to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro and hailed the “traditional friendship” between their sanctions-hit nations.
A video posted on the Kremlin’s website showed Putin and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel y Bermúdez giving speeches as Russian military guards prop up a bronze statue of Castro.
The late Castro embraced Soviet-style communism after leading a revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. During his half-century rule on the island, he defied the crippling American embargo and dozens of assassinations, and died in 2016 at the age of 90.
In his speech, Putin emphasized Castro’s history of defiance, praised him for “selflessly defending (his country’s) sovereignty” and drew parallels with Western sanctions imposed on Russia in connection with its campaign in Ukraine.
“The Soviet Union and Russia have always supported the Cuban people in their struggle for independence and sovereignty. We have always opposed all kinds of restrictions, embargoes, blockades and so on. We have always supported Cuba on the international stage, and we see that Cuba takes the same position towards Russia,” Putin said.
Other senior Russian officials struck a similar chord with Díaz-Canel, who arrived in Moscow on Saturday.
During Tuesday’s negotiations, Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian parliament, called Cuba “a symbol of the struggle for independence”, according to the website of the State Duma.
Russian state agencies also cited Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of the Russian Security Council and former chairman, 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 a State Duma reading, Díaz-Canel said that “Russia can always count on Cuba” during his meeting with Volodin on Tuesday and condemned US sanctions against Moscow as “coercive” and “unfair”.
Last Wednesday, Díaz-Canel began his foreign visit to Algeria, where he discussed support for Cuba’s energy sector, including the purchase of an unspecified amount of oil and the donation of a solar power plant. He continues to travel to Turkey and China.
Trade between Cuba and Russia in 2019 was about $500 million, as indicated by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov during his visit to the island that year.
Cuban state media reported that Díaz-Canel’s agenda will focus on the energy sector, which is highly sensitive to the island as it struggles with food, medicine and fuel shortages. There were hours-long daily power outages in Cuba’s biggest cities, sparking protests.
The Cuban government has acknowledged the problem, accusing U.S. sanctions imposed under former President Donald Trump of causing poverty and indirectly fueling the protests.
Havana’s main regional political ally, Venezuela, has sold the island’s oil to Cuba for the past two decades. Cuba produces only half of the oil its economy needs.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the Soviet Union offered Cuba many vital imports: fertilizer, industrial equipment, parts, and above all, oil in exchange for sugar.
When the old alliance collapsed in the 1990s, Cuba owed Russia about $35 billion in debt, 90% of which was written off by the Putin administration in 2014. The balance was refinanced.
Correspondent Andrea Rodríguez in Havana contributed to this report.