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Cuba's Raul Castro due in Moscow for 'historic' one-week visit


MOSCOW, January 28 (RIA Novosti) - Cuban leader Raul Castro's weeklong official visit to Russia, which starts on Wednesday, is an historic event, Cuban Ambassador to Russia Juan Valdez Figueroa told RIA Novosti in an interview.

Castro's official visit to Russia by invitation of President Dmitry Medvedev will last until February 4. His visit will be the first by a Cuban leader since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

"It needs to be emphasized that this is an historic visit," the ambassador said. "Raul Castro's official visit to Russia will have a political, economic and social character."

He noted the importance of the visit to develop bilateral relations between the two countries, which were refreshed during Medvedev's visit to Cuba last year and supplemented by an intergovernmental meeting on trade, economic, scientific and technological cooperation that ended last week.

"Relations with Cuba are very important for Russia and for Cuba it is very important to improve relations with Russia because relations with Russia give greater independence in the economic sphere," Figueroa said.

The ambassador said that the countries were "not expecting a simple continuation in relations, but a quantum leap in them" because "Russia and Cuba are two brothers who know it is time to come together and hug."

The Foreign Ministry's Latin American Department told RIA Novosti that plans for Raul Castro's visit were being finalized. During last week's Russian-Cuban intergovernmental meeting, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said that official events for the visit were planned for January 30.

Raul Castro, 77, officially became Cuba's leader in February 2008, after his brother, Fidel, who ran the country for some 50 years, ceded power to him after undergoing intestinal surgery in 2006.

With bilateral trade between the countries around $400 million annually, Cuba represents 0.05% of Russia's foreign trade, while Russia's is 2.2% of Cuba's. Sugar, citrus fruits, nickel and cobalt are Cuba's main exports to Russia, which sends chemicals, rolled steel and machine-building technology the other way.

The countries also cooperate in the spheres of energy, transportation, tourism and pharmaceuticals, as well as metals mining.

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