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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Arrives in Cuba for 3-Day Visit

HAVANA — Cuban President Fidel Castro met President Vladimir Putin in Havana late Wednesday at the start of his highly symbolic visit to Moscow’s ex-Cold War ally, now one of the world’s few bastions of communism.

Dressed in military uniform, Castro was at Havana’s Jose Marti international airport to greet Putin, who stepped off an Ilyushin jet to become the first Russian leader to visit Cuba or anywhere else in Latin America in the post-Soviet era.

The last major visit to Cuba from Moscow was by ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989.

Putin and Castro exchanged a cordial handshake on the runway, before chatting briefly, and then driving off together into central Havana.

Castro’s brother and armed forces’ chief, Raul Castro, as well as other senior Cuban officials such as Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, were also at the airport to greet Putin.

The old Soviet Union became Cuba’s strategic partner shortly after Castro came to power in his 1959 revolution that toppled former dictator Fulgencio Batista. But relations loosened dramatically after the collapse of the communist empire in 1991, and Cuba has since formed important commercial ties with other countries.

Putin, who arrived shortly before midnight on his flight from Moscow, is hoping to revive Cuban-Russian political and economic ties, and will have several sessions with Castro.

Putin made no comments to waiting media on arrival Wednesday.

Putin was to begin the official part of his visit Thursday with an official welcome ceremony led by Castro at Havana’s Revolution Palace. After conversations between both delegations, a package of bilateral documents were to be signed.

The Kremlin press office declined to clarify which agreements the package would contain, but Russian media said they would include an accord on avoiding double taxation and on cooperation in the health sphere.

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry said on the eve of the visit that the two governments planned to sign an agreement on bilateral trade for 2000-04.

But the discussions are widely expected to center on the problem of Cuba’s massive, Soviet-era debt to Moscow. The precise amount of the debt is unknown, but Russian media said it was more than $20 billion. Russia had also given loans to Cuba in the middle of the 1990s to maintain and upgrade some Soviet-built plants.

Russia believes part of the debt could be covered by its participation in some potentially lucrative projects, like a nickel ore processing plant at Las Camariocas, the Cienfuegos oil refinery and the Juragua nuclear plant. But the Cubans will want new investments.

Before flying to Canada on Sunday, Putin will spend two days, probably with Castro, at the world-famous beach resort of Varadero, a two-hour drive east of Havana down the coast.