The Telegraph
Sunday , July 13 , 2014
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Putin meets Castro in Cuba

July 12: Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, has met Cuba’s ruling Castro brothers at the start of a Latin American tour courting stronger trade and diplomatic ties as Moscow’s relations with the West fester over Ukraine.

Putin laid a wreath at Revolution Square in Havana with Raś Castro, the communist island’s President, and later met for an hour behind closed doors with his older brother Fidel, the long-time former dictator.

The visit was far from ceremonial as Russia agreed to write off 90 per cent of the impoverished island’s $35 billion debts to Moscow and announced a series of oil and trade initiatives with its ally, a staunch supporter of Putin during the Ukraine crisis.

In a clear swipe at American dominance of its regional “backyard”, Putin said that Russia was “interested in a strong, economically stable and politically independent, united Latin America that is becoming an important part of the emerging polycentric world order”.

The Russian President was kicking off a five-day Latin American trip that will culminate with a summit of the leaders of the emergent economic powers of the so-called BRICS states — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The formation of a new international development bank that will be portrayed as an alternative to western-dominated institutions is expected to be unveiled at the summit in the Brazilian city of Fortaleza.

His wooing of Latin America has come as Russia has been excluded from recent gatherings of the G8 group of leading industrial powers.

But Putin has long sought to undermine what he believes is American and western European domination of international agencies, even before his policies in Ukraine resulted in the imposition of US sanctions on prominent Russians. Russia is also seeking new military cooperation agreements in Latin America.