Russia’s ties with Cuba

Russia’s President, Dmitry Medvedev, completed a four-nation tour of Latin America late last week with a final stop in Cuba. The relations between the two countries appear to be strained and, at present, intense; however, Russia, like China, has an interest in drilling for oil off Cuba’s shores and is seeking further military cooperation from the advantageously positioned Castro-ruled nation.

Medvedev’s visit comes just over two weeks after Russia and Cuba signed important trade and economic agreements that signaled a strengthening of ties between the two nations. Russia was also the first nation to send aid for Cuba’s hurricane relief efforts.I find the recent talks between Venezuela, China, and Russia somewhat — if not outright — suspicious, and wouldn’t be surprised if the three socialist nations expressed a serious interest in bringing Cuba into the mix. Ever since Fidel Castro’s brother, Raúl, officially took the reigns in February, and Hurricanes Gustav and Paloma hit Cuba’s shores in August and November, the spotlight has slowly settled upon this world-famous cigar country. Cuba’s precarious relations with the United States and its recent strengthening of ties with China, Venezuela, and Russia signal a real and tenable threat to its democratic neighbors. Despite this, Raúl Castro remarked in an interview with actor/interviewer Sean Penn this fall that he would be open to reconsidering his nation’s relationship with the U.S. with President-elect Barack Obama come the new Year. What this means for American-Cuban relations following Obama’s inauguration is speculative at best.

To be certain, all eyes are on Cuba — yet most uncertain is what Cuba will do and how it will handle the outpouring of interest, diplomatic or otherwise, that it has received these recent months.

Churches in Saudi Arabia?

Cultural changes in Saudi Arabia have been a frequent topic on Gadling. We’ve talked about advancements such as: Saudi women being allowed to drive, controversial books being permitted distribution, bans on photography being lifted, and restrictions such as men imprisoned for flirting and the banning of red roses for Valentines day.

The latest, and what might be the most significant cultural change in the works is the possibility of building churches in the country. According to the BBC, the talks are the result of Saudi King Abdullah’s meeting with the Pope last November. Allowing churches to be built would give 1.5 million Christians who live there a place to worship — something that they can do only privately at the moment. The last Christian priest was expelled from the kingdom in 1985.

These talks were spurred after Doha allowed for a Catholic church to be built where the first mass was held earlier this year, attended by 15,000 people. Doha has now given the go ahead for Anglican, Orthodox and Coptic churches to be built.

According to the UK Times: “Saudi Arabia adheres to a hard-line Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam and is home to Mecca and Medina, the most holy sites of the religion — no faith other than Islam may be practiced.” If churches do come around to being built in the kingdom, it will be a huge feat in Muslim-Christian relations.