MOSCOW — Cuban leader Raul Castro sought on Wednesday to revive an historic but flagging friendship with Russia as he met Vladimir Putin for talks on economic relief for his sanctions-plagued communist state.
The Cuban leader's second visit to Russia since his 2006 assumption of power from older brother Fidel extends a recent revival of contacts that had ground to a halt when the Soviet Union fell apart two decades ago.
The Russian president called Cuba "not only our old partner but also our friend" and asked the younger Castro to pass on Russia's best wishes to the ailing 1950s revolution mastermind Fidel.
"We have had periods of different relations and they are more pragmatic today," Putin noted. "Still, everything that we amassed in past years is now a part of our shared wealth."
The 81-year-old Castro -- arriving in Russia after missions to communist China and Vietnam -- noted that "we live in a very complicated world" before the meeting was closed to the press.
Castro began his visit by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and then meeting Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for talks the Russian cabinet chief said focused on "ways in which we could use each other's potential."
The Kommersant business daily said Cuba was particularly interested in winning military agreements that could help Castro modernise his Soviet-era force of outdated tanks and submarines as well as other technology.
Kommersant noted however that this would put Russia's state arms export agency in conflict with US sanctions and that a 2010 request by Cuba to retrofit its Kalashnikov ammunition production plant has gone unfulfilled.
A formal Kremlin statement announcing Castro's arrival said the talks would focus on boosting broader economic cooperation while making no mention of possible military contacts.
Trade reached a meagre $224 million last year and may in fact suffer further on news that Spain's Repsol oil company was leaving the island after its exploratory wells came up dry.
An early bust to Cuba's offshore oil dreams could force the Russian state's Zarubezhneft foreign exploration unit to think twice about making a $2.9 billion shelf investment there by 2025.
Russian officials spoke of discussing new joint venture opportunities while offering no hint of being willing to extend interest-free loans or direct aid.
Castro's Moscow meetings come after he had won a promise in Beijing of just such assistance from Chinese President Hu Jintao.
He followed that visit with talks with Vietnam's communist leadership in Hanoi, after kicking the foreign talks off back home in Havana with a meeting with strongman Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Castro's latest foreign outreach comes as Cuba undertakes stuttering steps at economic liberalisation aimed at ending some of the worst shortages while still keeping its socialist dream alive.
Washington's trade embargo on Cuba over its rights record began crippling the island's economy most severely once Moscow withdrew both its troops and assistance with the end of the Cold War.
Russia has been flush with petrodollars for large parts of the last decade and used foreign aid as a form of influence on regions where its interests collided with those of the United States.
But Putin decided to cut Moscow's losses on the island in 2000 when he told the elder Castro during an historic visit to Havana that he was closing a Soviet-era military listening outpost that delved deep into US territory.
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