MOSCOW, July 11. /ITAR-TASS/. President Vladimir Putin said he was optimistic about the future of Russian-Cuban relations and one of the tasks to solve was to increase the flow of Russian tourists to Cuba and the number of airlines making direct flights between the two countries.
“At the heart of Russian-Cuban relations lies a long tradition of strong friendship, as well as rich - and in many ways unique - experience of fruitful cooperation. The Russian people have sincere affinity and respect for Cubans. I am convinced that these feelings are mutual,” Putin said in an exclusive interview to the Latin American news agency Prensa Latina ahead of his South American tour, during which he will visit Cuba, Argentina and Brazil.
“Our bilateral trade slowed down somewhat in the 1990s and foreign partners from various countries gained a lead on us in a number of sectors. The Canadians, for example, offered Cuba promising joint projects in the mining sector, and the Europeans have been actively developing tourism. We are ready to make up this lost ground,” the president noted.
In his opinion, “today, Cuba is one of Russia's leading partners in the region. Our cooperation is strategic and long-term oriented. We closely coordinate our foreign policy, including within multilateral organisations. Our positions coincide on many global and regional issues.”
Putin believes that “the main objective of our bilateral agenda is to expand our economic relations on the basis of the intergovernmental Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation Programme for 2012-2020. We are working on some major projects in industry and high technologies, energy, civil aviation, the peaceful use of outer space, medicine and biopharmaceuticals”.
Speaking of trade and economic aspects of bilateral relations, Putin said they had “a great potential”. “In order to realise it effectively and on a regular basis we have established an Intergovernmental Commission. Its twelfth meeting is scheduled to be held in autumn 2014 in Havana. We have established close cooperation between our business organisations - the Russian-Cuban and Cuban-Russian Business Councils. Our businesses traditionally take an active part in the annual Havana International Trade Fair: in 2013, 50 Russian companies presented their products,” he said.
“We believe there are real opportunities to bring our cooperation to a totally new level, including by implementing major joint projects. In particular, in August 2013, Zarubezhneft started drilling the first development well in the Boca de Jaruco oilfield,” the president said.
Russia’s short-term prospects include the development of new oilfields in the Cuban offshore area. To these ends, Zarubezhneft and Rosneft engage in active cooperation with Cupet, Cuba’s state oil company, he added.
INTER RAO is planning to join the construction of power units for the Maximo Gomez and East Havana TPP. The supply of Russian electric power equipment to Cuba is well underway.
A substantial number of Russian companies - specialising, in particular, in the production of reinforced plastic goods, auto spare parts, tractor assembly and installation of heavy equipment for the railway industry -have shown interest in closer cooperation due to the development of the Mariel special economic zone in Cuba.
The construction of a major transport hub is another large-scale project currently under development with Russia’s and Cuba’s involvement, as well as the possibility of attracting investment from third countries. It involves upgrading the port of Mariel and building a modern international airport with a cargo terminal in San Antonio de los Banos.
“We attach great importance to high technology cooperation. In particular, active work is underway to create GLONASS ground infrastructure on the island, to provide Cuba with products, services and technologies in remote sensing and satellite telecommunications,” Putin said.
Speaking about humanitarian and cultural ties, Putin said “we consider it our priority to develop ties in these areas”.
“Increasing humanitarian exchanges is one of the most important areas of our cooperation. Hosting Russian music and theatre performances and large-scale exhibitions has become a good tradition in Cuba. We will continue to develop youth and scientific contacts, as well as cooperation in education and tourism,” he said.
“We consider tourism cooperation to be mutually beneficial and promising. Some 70,000 Russians visited Cuba last year. Currently, we are taking steps to increase the number of carriers offering direct flights between the two countries. Thus, we are going to ensure sustainable growth of tourist flow from Russia to Cuba,” the president said.
“Tens of thousands of Cubans have studied in Russia. Annually, we give Cuban students the opportunity to study at Russian universities with the expenses covered by the state budget. One hundred scholarships were allocated to Cuba for the 2014-2015 academic year,” he said.
Joint theatre and music projects have always been very successful. A striking example is the triumph of the Anna Karenina production by the Vakhtangov Theatre last October in Havana. It was recognised by Cubans as the best foreign performance of 2013.
Russia takes an active part in the annual Havana International Book Fair, including the 23rd fair, which was held in February and where Russia could present its classical and modern literature to Cuban readers.
“We are very pleased that after a long break Cuba has re-joined the International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and Literature. A group of Russian language experts was established at the Cuban Linguistic Association, and specialised courses were launched at the Havana University,” the president said.
He also stressed that the Orthodox Church in Havana represented an authentic monument to Russian-Cuban friendship. Its construction was initiated in 2008 by Fidel Castro, the leader of the Cuban Revolution.
“In short, we are optimistic about the future of Russian-Cuban relations. There are excellent prospects in virtually all key areas of bilateral cooperation,” the president concluded.