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Putin arrives in Cuba on first stop of Lat-Am tour

President Vladimir Putin visited Russia's Cold War ally Cuba, launching a tour that will see him cozy up to Latin America amid newly frayed relations with the West.

HAVANA: President Vladimir Putin visited Russia's Cold War ally Cuba on Friday, launching a tour that will see him cozy up to Latin America amid newly frayed relations with the West.

Putin's six-day trip will also take him to Argentina and Brazil, where he will take part in a summit of the BRICS group of emerging countries - an agenda that neatly aligns with his push for a multi-polar world at a time when the Crimea crisis has brought Moscow-Washington relations to a post-Cold War low.

Putin said before his trip that he has his eye on Latin America's oil and bauxite, and plans to woo regional leaders with offers of increased Russian investment and trade in return.

Analysts say he will also use his talks in Latin America to thumb his nose at Brussels and Washington, which have slapped sanctions on some of his closest allies over Moscow's takeover of Crimea and support for Ukrainian separatists.

Before departing, Putin - who has sought to drive a wedge between the Western allies - condemned the cyber-spying revealed by fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, who is currently in Russia on asylum.

"As for the facts of cyber-espionage, this is not just blatant hypocrisy in relations between allies and partners," Putin said in a joint interview with Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency and Cuba's Prensa Latina.

"It is also direct infringement of a country's sovereignty and a breach of human rights, an invasion of privacy."

The remark came after Germany expelled the CIA station chief in Berlin on Thursday over alleged spying on Chancellor Angela Merkel, which has opened its worst diplomatic rift with the US in years.

Putin arrived early Friday at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport, where he was welcomed by First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, Russian diplomats and other officials, Prensa Latina said.

His agenda includes official talks with his counterpart Raul Castro and a meeting with the Cuban president's older brother Fidel, the father of the island's communist revolution.

Havana has sided with its old ally Russia in the Ukraine conflict, and the Russian strongman, whose country is facing the threat of new Western sanctions, is expected to get a sympathetic ear from the 87-year-old comandante.

Over the past years, Moscow has sought to revive ties with the Caribbean country, whose economy has been saddled with a US economic embargo since 1962.

Ahead of the visit, Russia wrote off 90 percent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt of more than US$30 billion.

After his one-day stop in Havana, Putin will fly to Buenos Aires, where analysts say he will likely seek a stake in Argentina's Vaca Muerta shale formation, an oil and gas field estimated to contain the equivalent of 22.8 billion barrels of oil, potentially one of the largest finds in history.

Argentina, locked out of capital markets since defaulting on its debt in 2001, desperately needs foreign investment.

President Cristina Kirchner will be keen to tap Russian capital at a time when her government is fighting to stay solvent in the face of a US court order to pay more than US$1.3 billion by the end of the month to "holdout" hedge funds refusing to take part in the restructuring of the country's defaulted debt.

Putin has also invited Argentina to take a seat at the table when Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - the so-called BRICS group - hold a summit next week in Brazil.

But first he will attend the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

At the end of the tournament Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will officially hand over World Cup responsibilities to Putin, whose country hosts the next edition in 2018.

Moscow says he will likely also meet with Merkel Sunday.

The Kremlin has sought to play Germany against the US in the Crimea crisis, leveraging its dependence on Russian gas in a bid to fend off more Western sanctions.

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