HAVANA (AP) -- Russian oil companies could soon begin searching for oil in deep Gulf of Mexico waters off Cuba, a top diplomat said just days before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits the island.
Russian oil companies have "concrete projects" for drilling in Cuba's part of the gulf, said Mijail Kamynin, Russia's ambassador to Cuba, to the state-run business magazine Opciones.
Kamynin also said Russian companies would like to help build storage tanks for crude oil and to modernize Cuban pipelines, as well as play a role in Venezuelan efforts to refurbish a Soviet-era refinery in the port city of Cienfuegos, according the article published this weekend.
Medvedev comes to former Cold War ally Cuba on Thursday, part of a tour of Latin America to strengthen his country's economic and political ties in the region. Kamynin said trade between Russia and the island would top $400 million this year.
Washington's nearly 50-year-old trade embargo prohibits U.S. companies from investing on the island. But Cuba's state-run oil concern has signed joint operating agreements with companies from several countries to explore waters that Cuban scientists claim could contain reserves of up to 20 billion barrels of oil.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Cuba in October for the signing of agreements allowing state-run Petroleo Brasileiro SA to invest $8 million initially for a seven-year, deep-water exploration project north of the famed beach resort of Varadero. If reserves are confirmed, Brazil would produce oil and natural gas recovered there over the next 25 years.
Opciones did not give details on what the Russian proposals would entail.
The Soviet Union was communist Cuba's chief economic benefactor until it disbanded, throwing the island's economy into disarray. Cuba-Russia relations soured after that, but warmed when President Vladimir Putin visited in 2000.