Castro to Visit in '09 As Russia Revives Ties

Cuban President Raul Castro will visit Russia next year, the Kremlin said Tuesday, in a new sign that Moscow is reviving a Cold War-era trade and military alliance.

Moscow also repeated calls for Washington to lift the economic embargo imposed on the Caribbean island in 1962 when Castro's brother, Communist revolutionary Fidel Castro, was in power.

"Next year, we await … Raul Castro in our country, and this will be yet another contribution to the development of ties," President Dmitry Medvedev told Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque in Moscow.

"Your visit is yet more evidence that relations between Cuba and Russia are developing in a very dynamic way," Medvedev said in comments broadcast on NTV.

Russia has been trying to restore its Cold War-era alliance with Cuba by expanding trade and military ties.

Its efforts are intended partly to show displeasure with the United States, accused by Medvedev last week of implementing unilateral policies that have destabilized the world.

"Cooperation between Russia and Cuba in the military-technical sphere is developing normally … and every country has the right to define with whom it will develop such cooperation," Perez Roque said after talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

"Cuba will not ask permission from any other country and will not explain it to anyone. Cooperation between Russia and Cuba in this area will always be directed to widening the defense capabilities of Cuba," said Perez Roque, who also had talks on Monday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Lavrov said Russia's military cooperation with Cuba was "an important component of our close partnership."

Moscow was Havana's main benefactor during the Cold War, but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 dealt a heavy blow to Cuba's economy. Relations soured in the 1990s.

Medvedev said the two countries had "overcome that pause" and contacts were now intense. Perez Roque handed Medvedev an invitation to visit Cuba, NTV reported.

United Nations member states voted in record numbers last month to urge the United States to lift its embargo on Cuba.

Asked by a reporter whether he would advise U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to scrap the embargo, Lavrov said, "We hope that the voice of the international community, which has been heard in the United Nations yet again, will of course, be taken into account."

Moscow has been taking a greater interest in Latin America, a strategy that political analysts and diplomats say has more to do with selling arms to the region than with flexing its muscles under the nose of the United States.