Russian Billionaire Fridman’s Alfa Forms Venture to Produce Nickel in Cuba


Bloomberg:

Russian billionaire Mikhail Fridman’s Alfa Group said it formed a joint venture in Cuba to extract nickel from industrial waste, the Moscow-based company’s A1 unit said in a statement today.

Cuban President Raul Castro approved Alfa’s venture with the state-run company Commercial Caribbean Nickel SA, A1 said.

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Cuba sees more Russian visitors


Russia has become one of the fastest growing tourism source countries for Cuba with over 23,000 Russians visiting the Caribbean island state in the first half of 2010, up 25 percent year on year, the National Statistics Office (NSO) said Friday.

The increase can be attributed to Cuba’s efforts to explore new tourism markets such as Russia, China, Mexico and Cubans living abroad after visitors from traditional tourist source countries like Spain, Germany and Italy, declined due to the global financial crisis, it said.

The measures included opening new direct flights, among which are twice-a-week direct flights between Moscow and Varadero, a major city in Cuba.

Cuba also held the 30th International Tourism Fair in Havana to strengthen the ties among tour operators between Russia and Cuba.

According to the NSO, 1.4 million visitors came to Cuba in the first half of this year, an increase of 1 percent year on year.

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest industry, contributing about 20 percent to the island’s total foreign currency income each year.

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New flights offer easier access to Cuban tourism destinations easier


Xinhua: A Boeing 767 from the Russian Airline “Transaero” carrying 200 passengers on Monday arrived at the Varadero Airport, 250 km east from Havana, a Cuba’s tourism official said on Monday.

The Russian airliner will send visitors twice a week to the Varadero Resort, said Ramon Fundora, a specialist from the Ministry of Tourism. The flight also marks the resumption of Moscow-Caradero airline.

The travels are coordinated by the UkranianTour Operators Lanta Tour and Coral Trave, and the Russian Havanaturrussia, said Fundora.

He added that last week the Brazilian airline Wets Jets also started direct flight to Varadero.

Cuba has seen an increase in its tourists arrival this year despite the global financial crisis. While fewer tourists visited Cuba from major tourist source countries like France and Spain, the opening of new markets such as Venezuela and Russia, has helped raise the total figure.

Some new airline companies started direct flights to the island, specially those from Mexico, Japan, Russia and Brazil.

The Cuban tourism authorities have also launched a promotion campaign entitled “Authentic Cuba” in Europe to open up new market.

Tourism is Cuba’s second largest industry contributing about 20 percent of the island’s total foreign currency annual earning, according to official figures.

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Russian says Cuba relations now “truly strategic”


HAVANA (Reuters) – Newly warmed relations between Cold War allies Russia and Cuba have become a “truly strategic association,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday as he launched a visit to the island his country kept afloat for 30 years.

He and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed accords committing to bilateral talks through 2011 and agreeing to jointly celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of their renewal of diplomatic relations following the 1959 Cuban revolution.

Russian officials have said Lavrov and his large delegation would discuss strengthening economic ties in areas including the electric power industry, transportation, pharmaceuticals and high technology.

“All this has enriched and strengthened our relationship and permitted us to convert it into a truly strategic association,” Lavrov told reporters.

Rodriguez praised “five decades of brotherhood” with Russia and said Cuba “will never forget its generous contribution to our development.”

The Soviet Union supported Cuba financially and militarily for 30 years in a Cold War alliance against the United States.

Their alliance took the world to the verge of nuclear war in 1962 when the Soviet Union placed missiles on the island, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis with the United States.

WARMING RELATIONS

The showdown ended with the Soviets withdrawing the missiles and the United States agreeing never to invade Cuba.

The alliance ended after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, which cooled off relations until recent years.

Lavrov is the latest in a long line of Russian officials to visit. Cuban President Raul Castro went to Russia last year.

A number of accords have been struck, including Russia’s promise to modernize the Cuban military, which is still using dilapidated Soviet equipment.

In December 2008, a Russian warship sailed into Havana Bay for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.

In November, Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft signed contracts to explore for oil along Cuba’s northern coast.

Russia has said renewing ties with Cuba is part of an effort to strengthen its economic and political interests in Latin America. Lavrov will go to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico after leaving Cuba on Saturday.

On Thursday evening, he was to open the annual Havana International Book Fair, which features Russian writers.

On Saturday, members of Russia’s Bolshoi Ballet will perform in Havana’s Karl Marx theater, its first appearance in Cuba since 1980.

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Russian foreign minister coming to Cuba


Granma:

SERGEY Viktorovich Lavrov, foreign minister of the Russian Federation, arrives in Cuba tomorrow in response to an invitation from Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez de Parrilla.

During his stay, the distinguished visitor will hold official talks with the Cuban foreign minister and, on the Russian side, will preside over the Inter-Foreign Ministry Political Consultation Meeting. Similarly, he is heading his country’s delegation to the 19th Havana Book Fair, of which Russia is the guest country of honor.

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Russia to Prospect for Oil in Cuba


HAVANA – The Russian and Cuban governments have signed four agreements for oil exploration and production on the Caribbean island, official media reported.

Under the accords, Russian state energy firm Zarubezhneft has been given permission to operate for 25 years in blocks located in the Cuban provinces of Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, Cuban state television said.

Cuban Basic Industry Minister Yadira Garcia and Russian Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Ivan Materov attended the signing ceremony, which took place at Russia’s pavilion at the International Trade Fair in Havana, which got underway on Monday.

The deal represents the countries’ first bilateral oil agreement since the demise of the Soviet Union, which subsidized the Cuban economy for decades.

Spain’s Repsol-YPF, Norway’s Norsk Hydro, India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Malaysia’s Petronas, Venezuela’s PDVSA, Vietnam’s PetroVietnam and Brazil’s Petrobras all have signed oil-exploration deals with Cuba’s communist government.

Cuban state oil firm Cuba Petroleo said last November that about 20 billion barrels could lie in the island’s offshore fields, while the U.S. Geological Survey has estimated a more modest total of between 4.6 billion and 9.3 billion barrels of recoverable crude.

Cuba currently imports from close ally Venezuela more than 90,000 barrels per day of crude oil – or about half the island’s needs – under preferential terms that allow the country to pay with medical, educational and sports services. EFE

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Rebuilding Cuban Army is a daunting task, assesses Russian report on general’s visit


Miami herald: Russia will have a big job in its hands once it begins to rebuild Cuba’s armed forces, the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta pointed out Monday in an article titled “Cadres from Makarov: Russia will train Cuban Army officers.” (For background, read previous blog items on the visit to Cuba of Gen. Nikolai Makarov.)
“After talks with Cuban leader Raúl Castro, [Makarov] announced two principal agreements: Cuban officers will again study at our military colleges and training centers, and Russian defense industry specialists will help Havana modernize its combat arsenal,” the paper said.
Recalling that “the Soviet Union supplied Cuba with large quantities of equipment and armaments,” the paper remarked that many of those units “are out of order and require repair and restoration. […] The general did not conceal that we’re talking about large-scale tasks,” the article said. “The Cuban Army is large enough, with more than 550,000 servicemen and officers. On the basis of the number of weapons, it’s on a par with theleading countries of Latin America.”
But Cuba’s arsenal is of Soviet vintage and in disrepair. “For example, out of 150 fighters, two thirds of them are MiG-21s and MiG-23s. True, Cuba bought several MiG-29s from Russia but they don’t spend much time on the airfield,” the writer said, insinuating that they spend more time in the repair shop. “A similar situation afflicts the tanks, armored personnel carriers, antiaircraft-missile complexes and communications systems.” (PHOTO SHOWS a MiG-21.)
Information appears to have leaked that Russia and Cuba “may establish joint ventures for the production of small arms and ammunition, and the repair and modernization of aircraft and armored vehicles, along the lines of what Russia already does in India and other countries.”
As to the conditions of sale, “it is clear that the giveaways of supplies and manpower that were common in the middle of the last century are out of the question. On the other hand, [payment] terms for Havana can be made sufficiently soft. Russia is interested in a partnership with Cuba and for that reason will likely make some financial concessions.”
“According to experts, [Raúl] Castro can reciprocate by allowing the pilots of our long-range aircraft to touch down in local military airfields and permitting Russian seamen to use Cuban ports to replenish their food and supplies,” the paper said.
And referring to the official flag of the Russian Navy – a blue cross on a white field – the article ended by saying that “Makarov hinted that the Andreyev flag could fly permanently in the Caribbean basin.”

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Russia’s top spy was among Raúl’s visitors


Miamiherald: Raúl Castro on Thursday met with visiting Gen. Nikolai Y. Makarov,chief of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, who was in Cuba for a five-day official visit. According to the daily Granma, the two men “broached different topics within the growing bilateral relations and made a brief overview of the international situation.”
Judging from Granma’s description, the room was full of military brass. On the Cuban side: Corps Gen. Alvaro López Miera, chief of the Cuban Armed Forces General Staff; Div. Gen. Leonardo Andollo Valdés, López Miera’s deputy; Brig. Gen. Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, the Armed Forces’ foreign relations chief. (Corps Gen. Julio Casas Regueiro, the Cuban Defense Minister, was also present, according to Radio Baraguá.)
On the Russian side: Lt. Gen. Alexander V. Shlyakhturov; Maj. Gen. Vyacheslav M. Proshkin; and Col. Vladimir A. Androsov, the Russian Embassy’s military attaché in Havana. Russian Ambassador Mikhail L. Kamynin was also present.
One visitor bears scrutiny. Last April, Shlyakhturov was appointed chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence (GRU), Russia’s largest intelligence agency. Little is known about him, except that he was the GRU’s deputy chief in charge of strategic intelligence and that he’s 62, married, and has two children. The GRU (acronym for Glavnovo Razvyedvatyelnovo Upravlenya) is responsible for military intelligence and conducts radio intercept, radio technology and aerial reconnaisance. It provides a daily brief for the chief of General Staff.

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Russia’s top military commander visits Cuba


HAVANA, September 15 (RIA Novosti) – The chief of the Russian General Staff has arrived in Cuba for a working visit at the invitation of the Cuban military leadership.

Gen. Nikolai Makarov, who landed in Havana late on Monday, will meet with his Cuban counterpart Gen. Alvaro Lopez Miera and other top brass, and “visit a number of military installations,” Russian Ambassador in Cuba Mikhail Kamynin said.

Although the Cuban leadership has repeatedly said it has no intention of resuming military cooperation with Russia after the surprise closure of the Russian electronic listening post in Lourdes in 2001, bilateral military ties seem to have been improving following the visit of Russian Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin to Cuba in July last year.

A group of Russian warships, led by the Admiral Chabanenko destroyer visited Cuba in December during a Caribbean tour.

Moscow had a military presence on Cuba for almost four decades after the Cuban crisis, maintaining an electronic listening post at Lourdes, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Havana, to monitor U.S. military activity and communications.

The Lourdes facility, the largest Russian SIGINT site abroad, was shut down in October 2001.

The facility covered a 28 square-mile area, with 1,000-1,500 Russian engineers, technicians, and military personnel reportedly working at the base, which was believed to cost Russia $200 million a year to run.

The complex was capable of monitoring a wide array of commercial and government communications throughout the southeastern United States, and between the United States and Europe.

Lourdes intercepted transmissions from microwave towers in the United States, communication satellite downlinks, and a wide range of shortwave and high-frequency radio transmissions.

Some Russian military sources have recently indicated that if a political decision is made Moscow could resume operations at the Lourdes facility and also use airbases in Cuba for refueling of strategic aircraft.

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Russian Subs Patrolling Off East Coast of U.S.


New York Times:

WASHINGTON — A pair of nuclear-powered Russian attack submarines has been patrolling off the eastern seaboard of the United States in recent days, a rare mission that has raised concerns inside the Pentagon and intelligence agencies about a more assertive stance by the Russian military.

The episode has echoes of the cold war era, when the United States and the Soviet Union regularly parked submarines off each other’s coasts to steal military secrets, track the movements of their underwater fleets — and be poised for war.

But the collapse of the Soviet Union all but eliminated the ability of the Russian Navy to operate far from home ports, making the current submarine patrols thousands of miles from Russia more surprising for military officials and defense policy experts.

“I don’t think they’ve put two first-line nuclear subs off the U.S. coast in about 15 years,” said Norman Polmar, a naval historian and submarine warfare expert.

The submarines are of the Akula class, a counterpart to the Los Angeles class attack subs of the United States Navy, and not one of the larger submarines that can launch intercontinental nuclear missiles.

According to Defense Department officials, one of the Russian submarines remained in international waters on Tuesday about 200 miles off the coast of the United States. The location of the second remained unclear. One senior official said the second submarine traveled south in recent days toward Cuba, while another senior official with access to reports on the surveillance mission said it had sailed away in a northerly direction.

The Pentagon and intelligence officials spoke anonymously to describe the effort to track the Russian submarines, which has not been publicly announced.

President Obama spoke by telephone with President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the subject of the submarines came up, although another source of friction between the two countries did. Mr. Medvedev called Mr. Obama to wish him a happy birthday and the White House said the president used the opportunity to urge Russia to work through diplomatic channels to resolve rising tensions with Georgia.

The submarine patrols come as Moscow tries to shake off the embarrassment of the latest failed test of the Bulava missile, a long-range weapon that was test fired from a submarine in the Arctic on July 15. The failed missile test was the sixth since 2005, and some experts see Russia’s assertiveness elsewhere as a gambit by the military to prove its continued relevance.

“It’s the military trying to demonstrate that they are still a player in Russian political and economic matters,” Mr. Polmar said.

One of the submarines is the newer Akula II, officials said, which is quieter than the older variant and the most advanced in the Russian fleet. The Akula is capable of carrying torpedoes for attacking other submarines and surface vessels as well as missiles for striking targets on land and at sea.

Defense Department officials declined to speculate on which weapons might be aboard the two submarines.

While the submarines have not taken any provocative action beyond their presence outside territorial waters of the United States, officials expressed wariness over the Kremlin’s motivation for ordering such an unusual mission.

“Anytime the Russian Navy does something so out of the ordinary it is cause for worry,” said a senior Defense Department official who has been monitoring reports on the submarines’ activities.

The official said the Navy was able to track the submarines as they made their way through international waters off the American coastline. This can be done from aircraft, ships, underwater sensors or other submarines.

“We’ve known where they were, and we’re not concerned about our ability to track the subs,” the official added. “We’re concerned just because they are there.”

Once among the world’s most powerful forces, the Russian Navy now has very few ships regularly deployed on the open seas. Moscow has contributed warships to the international armada searching for Somali pirates. In addition, a flotilla of Russian warships participated in exercises with Venezuela last year.

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