Castro, Medvedev Seal Partnership By Michael Stott

APCastro and Medvedev looking on as assistants exchange documents during their meeting in the Kremlin on Friday.��
Raul Castro, the first Cuban president to visit Russia since the Cold War, signed a partnership pact with President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday intended to revive the once flourishing alliance between the two countries.

Castro, wearing a dark suit and white shirt rather than the battle fatigues beloved by his brother Fidel, opened a meeting with Medvedev by recalling the long-standing ties between Moscow and Havana -- a constant irritant to the United States.

"We are old friends, we have known each other in good [times] and bad, the ones when you really get to know friends best," said Raul, 77. "This is a historic moment, an important moment in relations between Russia and Cuba."

Medvedev congratulated Cuba on the 50th anniversary of its communist revolution and sent his best wishes to Raul's 82-year-old brother, Fidel, who led Cuba since 1959 but retired as president last year because of ill health.

"Your visit to our country opens a new page in the history of Russia-Cuba relations and will mean their elevation to the level of strategic partnership," Medvedev said.

The formal meeting, which lasted less than an hour, was followed by the signing of agreements giving Russian food aid and a $20 million loan to Cuba to buy Russian construction, energy and agricultural equipment.

Financing was agreed for the delivery of Tu-204 civilian aircraft, and Russia will donate at least 25,000 tons of grain to help resolve food problems on the island.

Power company Inter RAO signed an agreement to build a power station in Cuba, and vehicle manufacturers KamAZ, AvtoVAZ, ZiL and Gaz are interested in operations in Cuba, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin added.

No figures were disclosed.

Castro did not give a news conference, and defense cooperation was not mentioned. Asked afterward by a reporter about possible military cooperation between Moscow and Havana, Sechin responded, "Why are you interested in that?"

Moscow was Cuba's main benefactor during the Cold War, but their alliance wilted after the Soviet collapse. Fidel Castro last visited Moscow in 1986 for a Communist Party congress.

But over the last few months, both countries have moved to rebuild links. Russian oil companies want to drill in the sea around Cuba, and its military has talked about air defense cooperation with the Cubans.

"It is our duty on the Cuban side ... to take the appropriate steps for the constant, serene but unstoppable consolidation of our relations in all aspects," Castro said.

As well as power generation and vehicle manufacturing, Friday's agreements between Russia and Cuba also covered cultural links, education and medicine. "Solid foundations have been laid for the development of Russian-Cuban relations in the economic area," Sechin told reporters.

One possibility was a joint venture between Aeroflot and Cuba's Cubana de Aviacion, he said.

Castro is to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday.