Russian says Cuba relations now "truly strategic"
* Russia, Cuba to discuss economic accords
* Lavrov latest Russian official to visit Cuba
* Cuba praises "five decades of brotherhood"
By Rosa Tania Valdes
HAVANA, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Newly warmed relations between Cold War allies Russia and Cuba have become a "truly strategic association," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday as he launched a visit to the island his country kept afloat for 30 years.
He and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez signed accords committing to bilateral talks through 2011 and agreeing to jointly celebrate the upcoming 50th anniversary of their renewal of diplomatic relations following the 1959 Cuban revolution.
Russian officials have said Lavrov and his large delegation would discuss strengthening economic ties in areas including the electric power industry, transportation, pharmaceuticals and high technology.
"All this has enriched and strengthened our relationship and permitted us to convert it into a truly strategic association," Lavrov told reporters.
Rodriguez praised "five decades of brotherhood" with Russia and said Cuba "will never forget its generous contribution to our development."
The Soviet Union supported Cuba financially and militarily for 30 years in a Cold War alliance against the United States.
Their alliance took the world to the verge of nuclear war in 1962 when the Soviet Union placed missiles on the island, touching off the Cuban Missile Crisis with the United States.
The showdown ended with the Soviets withdrawing the missiles and the United States agreeing never to invade Cuba.
The alliance ended after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, which cooled off relations until recent years.
Lavrov is the latest in a long line of Russian officials to visit. Cuban President Raul Castro went to Russia last year.
A number of accords have been struck, including Russia's promise to modernize the Cuban military, which is still using dilapidated Soviet equipment.
In December 2008, a Russian warship sailed into Havana Bay for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union.
In November, Russian state oil company Zarubezhneft signed contracts to explore for oil along Cuba's northern coast.
Russia has said renewing ties with Cuba is part of an effort to strengthen its economic and political interests in Latin America. Lavrov will go to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico after leaving Cuba on Saturday.
On Thursday evening, he was to open the annual Havana International Book Fair, which features Russian writers.
On Saturday, members of Russia's Bolshoi Ballet will perform in Havana's Karl Marx theater, its first appearance in Cuba since 1980.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Alan Elsner)
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