HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban President Raul Castro and the head of Russian oil company Rosneft met in Havana on Saturday, the latest sign the two countries are readying a major energy agreement.
State-controlled media on Sunday ran a photograph of Castro and Igor Sechin sitting with notebooks at a table with Economy Minister Ricardo Cabrisas, after the latter two had held what was termed in a brief caption “a working meeting”.
Castro usually appears with visitors only in protocol photographs. There was no further information.
Castro and Sechin have known each other for decades.
Cuba struggled with blackouts and fuel shortages after the fall of its benefactor, the Soviet Union. The rise of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s late president, ended that crisis at the turn of the century, and Cuba came to rely on Venezuela for about 70 percent of its fuel needs.
But socialist Venezuela’s subsidised shipments have fallen by at least 40 percent since 2014. Cuba is looking for new suppliers to help mitigate electricity and fuel rationing to state companies.
Rosneft, Russia’s state-run oil company, began shipping some fuel in May to Cuba even as the United States under Donald Trump began reversing a fragile detente begun by former U.S. President Barack Obama. They were the first significant Russian fuel deliveries since the early 1990s.
Rosneft, in October, said it was considering increasing oil shipments to Cuba and improving refining capacity on the island after Sechin met with Cuban Energy Minister Alfedo Lopez in Moscow.
According to Jorge Pinon, an oil expert at the University of Texas at Austin, the Cuba deal this year was equivalent to around 1,865,000 barrels and valued at $105 million (78.82 million pounds) at current prices.
In comparison, Russia reported it shipped oil products to Cuba from 2010 through 2015 valued at $11.3 million.
Cuba consumes 140,000 barrels per day of oil products.
(Reporting by Marc Frank, editing by Larry King)