Russia, Cuba seek closer 'strategic partnership'

HAVANA, April 21st (AFP) Russian President Vladimir Putin called communist Cuba’s new leader Miguel Diaz-Canel Tuesday to discuss strengthening the two countries’ “strategic partnership,”

the Russian foreign ministry said in a message retweeted by its embassy in Havana.

The call came the day after Diaz-Canel took over from Raul Castro as first secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the most powerful position in the one-party state that was an important Cold War ally of Russia.

Castro and his brother Fidel before him had successively held the post for more than six decades.

In Tuesday’s call, Putin and Diaz-Canel “confirmed their mutual willingness to strengthen the strategic partnership as well as to coordinate efforts in the fight against the spread of #COVID19,” said the tweet.

The Kremlin had earlier issued a statement congratulating Diaz-Canel and expressing willingness to “develop a constructive bilateral dialogue and mutually-beneficial cooperation” between the two nations.

While Russia seeks closer ties, Cuba’s relations with the United States have been at a low since then-President Donald Trump reinforced sanctions following a historic but temporary easing of tensions under Barack Obama between 2014 and 2016.

The tougher measures and the effects of the coronavirus epidemic contributed to Cuba’s economy declining 11 percent in 2020.

In his final address to the party last Friday, Castro affirmed a “willingness to conduct a respectful dialogue and build a new kind of relationship with the United States” but without Cuba renouncing “the principles of the revolution and socialism.”

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said last Friday the United States was not planning any immediate change in its policy toward Cuba, which would continue to focus on “support for democracy and human rights.”

“It is said that Cuba is not a priority for the United States… That begs the question why then are there laws… with the objective to attack and to try and control the destiny of Cuba,” Diaz-Canel said in his first address as a leader.