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Russia to Help Cuba with Oil Projects

Leading Russian oil companies pledged to help Cubapetroleo with prospecting, production, refining and other aspects of the oil industry under an agreement signed in Moscow on Friday before Cuban President Raul Castro's visit next week, Russian news agencies reported.

The memorandum of understanding calls for cooperation on activities "from geological work to drilling, refining and sales" of oil, ITAR-Tass and Interfax quoted Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, a point man for the economic side of Russia's renewed push for influence in Latin America, as saying.

He said contracts for the development of Cuba's oil industry would be drafted, and specified that "there are good prospects for the development of sea terminals," the reports said. He said Russians will train Cubans for oil industry work, according to Interfax.

The memorandum was signed by representatives of Cubapetroleo and a Russian consortium comprising , TNK-BP, Zarubezhneft, Rosneft and Surgutneftegaz, Sechin said.

He said the agreement does not bar individual Russian and Cuban oil companies from working together, and that companies from other Latin American countries could also cooperate.

The Soviet Union provided billions of dollars in trade and annual subsidies to its Communist ally Cuba before the 1991 Soviet collapse. The Kremlin has moved to rebuild old ties with Cuba and Nicaragua, and cultivate new friends such as Venezuela, to flex its muscles close to the United States.

On Thursday, ITAR-Tass quoted Raul Castro as saying in an interview that Russia and Cuba enjoy "wonderful relations" again, after a pause in the 1990s.

Russian officials had announced that Castro would visit Russian in late January, and Sechin said Friday that the main meetings during his visit will take place Jan. 30.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wrapped up a Latin American tour in November in Cuba, where he met with Castro and his brother, the longtime leader Fidel Castro.

Russia sent a navy squadron to the Caribbean, with warships making port calls in several countries including Cuba.

Sechin said Russia and Cuba would continue their "military-technical cooperation," meaning weapons trade and training, but he gave no details, the reports said.

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