The Russian government has granted Cuba a $50 million loan to buy Russian military equipment, just days before Cuba’s handpicked President Miguel Díaz-Canel is scheduled to meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
The arms deal is to be signed during a series of meetings of the Cuba-Russia Intergovernmental Commission that started Monday, according to the Russian newspaper Kommersant. The newspaper quoted sources as saying that the talks would focus on the sale of armored vehicles, helicopters and small arms as well as replacement parts for battle tanks.
Cuba also has plans to “buy industrial equipment” through other commercial contracts with Russia, the newspaper added.
The Cuban News Agency reported that Ricardo Cabrisas, vice president of the Council of Ministers, and Yuri Borisov, first prime minister of Russia, would head the bilateral commission meetings but gave no further details. The meetings coincide with the 2nd Russia-Latin America and Caribbean Business Forum, held for the first time in Havana.
Faced with cooling relations with the United States and deteriorating conditions in Venezuela, a key ally, the Cuban government has been strengthening its relations with Russia, signing several agreements in areas such as energy and transport. The Russian oil company Rosfnet signed a deal with Cuba late last year to increase oil exports to the island.
Borisov’s office told Kommersant that about 60 investment projects already negotiated will be officially signed in Havana this week.
The announcement of the arms deals came just days before Díaz-Canel is to start a visit to Russia and other allies, including China, Vietnam, Laos and North Korea. Putin’s office has announced that Díaz-Canel, who is scheduled to arrive Friday, will meet with the Russian leader to discuss “the current state and prospects for further deepening Russian-Cuban strategic partnership in various spheres.”
Díaz-Canel and Putin met in Havana in 2014 and in Moscow in 2016, when the Cuban leader was vice president. The Cuban foreign ministry announced Díaz-Canel would also meet with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Although Díaz-Canel is trying to boost his image abroad and tighten political alliances, the urgent goal of his tour is to secure loans and investments that will help the Cuban government survive.
The island’s economy has been hit by the ongoing economic crisis in Venezuela as well as a drop in tourism revenues generated by Trump administration measures, including travel warnings following a string of alleged attacks on U.S. diplomats in Havana. NBC has reported that U.S. federal agencies investigating the attacks consider Russia to be the main suspect.
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres