September 28, 1999

Cuba, Russia seek new post-Cold War relationship

                  From Havana Bureau Chief Lucia Newman

                  HAVANA (CNN) -- The bear hug isn't as tight as it used to be, and gone
                  are the triple kisses on the cheek. Still the greeting between Cuba's President
                  Fidel Castro and Russia's Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was reminiscent of
                  the past -- of a time when Havana and Moscow were united in their
                  communist ideology and their animosity toward the United States.

                  Cuban and Russian leaders held closed-door talks Tuesday in an effort to
                  redefine their troubled post-Cold War relationship. Diplomats said Ivanov's
                  visit was focusing primarily on bilateral issues, but with discussion also of the
                  recent Kosovo conflict and the present crisis in Chechnya.

                  Trade and debt on the agenda

                  Pressing bilateral concerns include a trade deal to exchange Cuban sugar for
                  Russian oil and Cuba's disputed outstanding debt, which Russia inherited
                  from the former Soviet Union.

                  "It's evident that taking into account the wealth accumulated in the many
                  years of relations between both nations, it's logical that the ties between
                  Cuba and Russia continue to develop," said Ivanov.

                  The Russian foreign minister's visit came exactly one decade after relations
                  between both countries plummeted with the visit to Cuba by Mikhail
                  Gorbachev, who came here to tell Castro to change his economic and
                  political system, ironically just as the Soviet Union was about to collapse.

                  After enjoying one of the firmest Cold War alliances, the special relationship
                  between Havana and Moscow ended abruptly with the collapse of the
                  Soviet bloc at the start of the 1990s.

                  Cuban economy hangs on

                  The end to favorable trade and Soviet aid that once propped up Cuba's
                  ailing economy has helped plunge Cuba into an abyss -- an economic crisis
                  dubbed by some Cuban authorities as a "Special Period in Time of Peace"
                  -- from which it is still struggling to emerge.

                  Despite almost all predictions, Cuba's economy has survived. Some would
                  argue it is even healthier than Russia's.

                  While the Cold War that once thrust both nations together is behind them,
                  Russia and Cuba once again are finding common ground.

                  "Cuba and Russia support a multipolar world order," said Ivanov. "We
                  support the charter of the United Nations and respect for international law."

                  But anyone expecting Havana to follow Moscow's path on the ideological
                  front will have to keep waiting. Cuba's leadership never tires of pointing to
                  the economic and political chaos in Russia as an argument against the sort of
                  reform that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.