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Top Russian General Visits Cuba Among Warming Ties


HAVANA (Reuters) -- A top Russian military official has begun a four-day visit to Cuba in the latest sign of warming relations between the old Cold War allies.

General Nikolai Makarov, the chief of Russia's General Staff, was to meet his Cuban counterparts and tour military installations, according to reports in state media.

He is the latest in a series of Russian officials to visit Cuba in the past year as the two countries renew their once-strong ties.

Russia was communist-run Cuba's biggest benefactor before their alliance ended after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Last November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev came to Cuba, and a few weeks later, the Russian destroyer Admiral Chabanenko sailed into Havana Bay, the first Russian warship to do so since 1991.

In late July, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin led a visiting delegation that gave Cuba $150 million in credits and signed several business accords.

In February, Cuban President Raul Castro returned the favor, visiting Russia and coming home with the promise of more than $350 million in financial aid.

Russia's renewed links with Cuba are part of a campaign to increase its Latin American presence and business activities.

In recent years, Russia has sold $4 billion worth of weapons to Venezuela, and more sales are in the pipeline.

On September 13, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Russia had opened a $2.2 billion credit line for him to buy more weapons, which he said are necessary to counter the United States.

Chavez has complained about a security agreement by neighboring Colombia to allow U.S. troops into more of its military bases.

The U.S. State Department expressed fears that Chavez's weapon purchases could spark an arms race and lead to instability in the region.
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