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Russian, Cuban Presidents Seal New Partnership

Presidents Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Raul Castro at the presidential residence in Zavidovo
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Raul Castro, the first Cuban president to visit Russia since the Cold War, has signed a partnership pact with Kremlin leader Dmitry Medvedev intended to revive the once-flourishing alliance between the two countries.

Castro, wearing a dark suit and white shirt rather than the battle fatigues beloved of his brother Fidel, opened a meeting with Medvedev by recalling the long-standing ties between Moscow and Havana -- a constant irritant to the United States.

"We are old friends, we have known each other in good [times] and bad, the ones when you really get to know friends best," the 77-year-old Raul said. "This is an historic moment, an important moment in relations between Russia and Cuba."

Medvedev congratulated Cuba on the 50th anniversary of its communist revolution and sent his best wishes to Raul's 82-year-old brother Fidel, who led Cuba since 1959 but retired as president last February due to ill health.

"Your visit to our country opens a new page in the history of Russia-Cuba relations and will mean their elevation to the level of strategic partnership," the Russian president said.

The formal meeting, which lasted under an hour, was followed by the signing of agreements giving Russian food aid and a $20 million loan to Cuba to buy Russian construction, energy, and agricultural equipment.

Financing was agreed for the delivery of Tupolev-204 civilian aircraft and Russia will donate at least 25,000 tons of grain to help resolve food problems on the island.

The Russian power company Inter signed an agreement to build a power station in Cuba, and Russian vehicle manufacturers KamAZ, AvtoVAZ, Zil, and Gaz are interested in operations in Cuba, Deputy Russian Prime Minister Igor Sechin added.

No figures were disclosed.

Castro did not give a news conference and details of his agenda in Moscow over the weekend were not available, even to the Cuban press pool traveling with him. Castro was to meet Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on February 2.

Defense cooperation was not mentioned.

Moscow closed its last military installation in Cuba, a radar base which Washington said was used to spy on the United States, in 2002 as a cost-cutting move.

There was been no sign of any fresh attempts to establish facilities on the island.

Asked afterwards by a reporter about possible military cooperation between Moscow and Havana, Sechin responded, "Why are you interested in that?"