HAVANA, Feb 23 (Reuters) – Cuba, a close ally of Russia, has sharply criticized the United States for imposing “the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation” and called for a diplomatic solution to preserve international peace.
One of the worst crises in Europe in decades is unfolding as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops into two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine after recognizing them as independent, prompting fresh sanctions from Western nations including the United States.
In a statement late on Tuesday, Cuba’s foreign ministry said the United States, Havana’s long-time rival, had ramped up threats against Putin, aggravating the crisis. The Cuban statement did not specifically mention Russian advances into the separatist regions of eastern Ukraine.
“The US government has been threatening Russia for weeks and manipulating the international community about the dangers of an ‘imminent massive invasion’ of Ukraine,” the Cuban statement said. “It has supplied weapons and military technology, deployed troops to several countries in the region, applied unilateral and unjust sanctions, and threatened other reprisals.”
Communist-run Cuba for decades has been an ally of Russia and the Soviet Union before that, with close economic ties.
Cuba’s statement came just hours after Russia agreed to postpone debt payments owed to it by Cuba until 2027. Cuba’s foreign ministry said last week the two countries would deepen ties and explore collaboration in transportation, energy, industry and banking following a visit from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov.
Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s Duma, or lower house of parliament, said during a visit to Cuba Wednesday that the United States was seeking to suppress both countries with unwarranted sanctions, according to a translated statement broadcast on Cuban state television.
“They don’t want to see a strong Russia, they don’t want Russia to be self-sufficient, and the same for Cuba, they don’t want to see a free people, they don’t want to see an independent country,” Volodin told Cuban lawmakers.
The Cuban statement on Tuesday said “constructive and respectful dialogue” was necessary to resolve the Ukraine crisis.
“We call on the United States and NATO to seriously and realistically address the well-founded claims for security guarantees of the Russian Federation, which has the right to defend itself,” the statement said.
“The determination of the United States to impose the progressive expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation constitutes a threat to the national security of this country and to regional and international peace,” it added.
Reporting by Dave Sherwood in Havana; Editing by Will Dunham and Gerry Doyle