Cuba welcomes Russian hurricane aid

HAVANA, Sept 4 (Reuters) - Cuba's state-run media on Thursday highlighted the arrival of Russian aid in the wake of devastating Hurricane Gustav, the latest sign the former Cold War allies are out to strengthen their relations.

State-run television showed two huge cargo planes arriving at Havana's Jose Marti airport at the top of its morning news broadcast.

Cuban soldiers were seen unloading supplies such as tents, electrical cables and construction materials.

Such scenes have not been seen in Cuba since the Soviet Union collapsed.

U.S. officials have expressed concern over the warming trend in relations between the two countries.

The ghost of Cuba-Russia relations past was raised in July by a news report that Russia might use Cuba as a refueling base for its nuclear-capable bombers. The Russian Defense Ministry later denied the report.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin went to Havana in August on what was billed as an economic trip and, accompanied by Russian Security Council Secretary Gen. Nikolai Patrushev, met with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Raul Castro became president in February after his brother Fidel Castro resigned for health reasons.

The security council, which guides Russian national security policy, later said in a statement the two countries planned "consistent work to restore traditional relations in all areas of co-operation."

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin chimed in later, saying, "We need to re-establish positions on Cuba and in other countries."

Cuba has sided with Russia in the Georgia crisis.

Russian President Dimitri Medvedev promised four planes with more than 200 tonnes of emergency supplies after Gustav hit Cuba on Saturday.

Communist Party newspaper Granma's top story on Thursday covered a conversation between President Raul Castro and President Medvedev in which the latter pledged to speed up implementation of cooperation plans.

The Russian aid was the first to arrive in Cuba after Gustav, packing record high winds, devastated parts of westernmost Pinar del Rio province and the Isle of Youth.

Russia's ambassador to Cuba was scheduled to tour the area this week.

Granma said allies Venezuela and China as well as other countries such as Brazil, Argentina and Mexico had also offered assistance.

Moscow gave Cuba billions of dollars worth of aid during their long alliance and, at the height of their dominance, stationed thousands of troops and advisers on the island.

When the Soviet Union unraveled in 1991, the aid dried up, Cuba plunged into a deep economic crisis and then-leader Fidel Castro denounced Russia for betraying the island.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; editing by Eric Walsh)


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