HAVANA , July 11 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Havana, Cuba, Friday, his first stop on a tour of Latin America.
The Russian parliament's upper house canceled 90 percent of Cuba's $35.2 billion debt to Russia, a leftover from the Cold War days of close ties between the Soviet Union and Cuba, two days earlier. Although relations between the two countries cooled after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, they have recently improved, with Russian involvement in oil exploration near Cuba.
Putin is expected to meet with Cuban President Raoul Castro, as well as retired president Fidel Castro. Putin will attend the World Cup final match in Brazil Sunday as representative of the next host country, will visit Argentina and attend a summit of countries with emerging economies in Fortaleza, Brazil. Of Brazil, Putin said prior to the trip, "This powerful and fast-developing country is destined to play an important role in the emerging polycentric world order."
The trip is part of a strategy to persuade Latin American leaders to challenge Western authority, particularly that of the United States, analysts say. It comes at a time Russia finds itself sequestered in the world arena after its annexation of Crimea and suspected involvement in Ukraine's separatist movement, action that led to economic sanctions against the country.