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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mandela Says Owes Moscow Personal Debt

South African President Nelson Mandela arrived in Moscow on Wednesday saying he had a personal debt to pay for the support Moscow gave him in fighting apartheid.

"I've visited almost every country in the world. It's ironic that I should be in Russia at the end of my career," the 80-year-old former political prisoner told reporters at the airport. Mandela's term ends in June.

"We received enormous assistance from the Soviet Union, the assistance we could not get from the West. Russia should have been the very first country that I visited. And I have come to pay that debt now."

The visit, which will include talks with President Boris Yeltsin, 68, on Thursday, is seen as a symbolic meeting of two political figures who played major roles in changing the face of their countries.

Mandela on Wednesday was to attend Pyotr Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake" at the Bolshoi Theater.

On Friday, he will visit the Novodevichy cemetery in Moscow, where colleagues from the African National Congress were buried after dying in exile.

Mandela has in the past praised Moscow for its support of the ANC during its years as a liberation movement.

Mandela, who will discuss political and economic issues with Yeltsin and other officials, said Wednesday that bilateral trade ties were vital and must be increased.

"I'm here to ensure that ties strengthen and expand," he said.

At least three of Mandela's planned state visits to Russia have been called off since 1995, most recently in January when he was suffering from a cold.