Amid Warmer Ties, Russians Open a Cathedral in Havana

APA Russian Orthodox priest taking pictures of the Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral in Havana at its opening Sunday.
HAVANA -- Cuban President Raul Castro attended the opening of a Russian Orthodox cathedral in Havana in the latest sign of improved relations between Havana and Moscow.

The ceremony was part of Sunday activities in Cuba called the Day of Russia in Cuba, and which also included concerts and the screening of feature films and documentaries made in Russia.

The event coincided with the anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

"This is a monument to Russian-Cuban friendship and all the efforts that have preserved our relations including the most difficult moments of the Cold War," Metropolitan Kirill, head of the Moscow Patriarchate department for external church relations, said at the opening of the Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral.

Russia's ambassador to Cuba, Mikhail Kamynin, told reporters that his country will be enhancing economic, cultural and spiritual ties with Cuba and other Latin American countries.

The church will attend mainly to Russians married to Cubans and their children.

The Soviet Union was Cuba's main benefactor during the Cold War, and there was quite a bit of intermarriage over the years. Russia was the Caribbean island's 10th trading partner in 2007 at nearly $400 million.

Raul Castro met in July with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who was in Cuba seeking to strengthen ties between the former Cold War allies.

Sechin was in Cuba again in September to discuss hurricane relief after the island was struck by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.