Cuba grateful for Russia’s position on US sanctions pressure — Foreign Ministry

Cuba is grateful to Russia for its position on the United States’ sanctions pressure on Havana, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said on Twitter on Friday.

"Cuba expresses gratitude to Russia’s government, parliament, state agencies and people for their constant solidarity and support of demands to put an end to the United States’ blockade and abolish the Helms-Burton Act," the tweet reads.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during his July visit to Cuba that the United States’ trade blockade was absolutely unacceptable. He also pointed out that by activating Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the US once again showed disregard for international law as it sought to apply national laws extraterritorially.

US sanctions on Cuba

The United States severed diplomatic ties with Cuba in 1961 in response to the nationalization of American property on the island. Washington later enforced a trade and economic embargo on Havana.

In December 2014, then US President Barack Obama admitted that Washington’s previous policy towards Cuba was not working and announced a new policy aimed at mending bilateral relations and easing sanctions. However, the rapprochement policy was rejected by Donald Trump. He tightened the rules for Americans travelling to Cuba and imposed a ban on doing business with organizations controlled by the Cuban military.

Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, which makes it possible for US nationals to file lawsuits over property confiscated in Cuba in the past, had been continuously suspended by US presidential administrations since 1996 but Donald Trump moved to lift the suspension.

  • Published in Cuba

Russia Sends Its First Humanoid Robot Fedor Into Space

Moscow: Russia on Thursday launched an unmanned rocket carrying a life-size humanoid robot that will spend 10 days learning to assist astronauts on the International Space Station.

Named Fedor, short for Final Experimental Demonstration Object Research, the robot is the first ever sent up by Russia.

Fedor blasted off in a Soyuz MS-14 spacecraft at 6:38 am Moscow time (0338 GMT) from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz is set to dock with the space station on Saturday and stay till September 7.

Soyuz ships are normally manned on such trips, but on Thursday no humans are travelling in order to test a new emergency rescue system. 

Instead of cosmonauts, Fedor, also known as Skybot F850, was strapped into a specially adapted pilot's seat, with a small Russian flag in hand. 

"Let's go. Let's go," the robot was heard saying during launch, repeating the famous phrase used by first man in space Yuri Gagarin.

The silvery anthropomorphic robot stands 1.80 metres (5 foot 11 inches) tall and weighs 160 kilogrammes (353 pounds).

Fedor has Instagram and Twitter accounts with posts saying it is learning new skills such as opening a bottle of water. In the station, it will trial those manual skills in very low gravity.

"That's connecting and disconnecting electric cables (and) using standard items, from a screwdriver and a spanner to a fire extinguisher," the Russian space agency's director for prospective programmes and science, Alexander Bloshenko, said in televised comments ahead of the launch.

"The first stage of in-flight experiments went according to the flight plan," the robot tweeted after reaching orbit.

Fedor copies human movements, a key skill that allows it to remotely help astronauts or even people on Earth to carry out tasks while the humans are strapped into an exoskeleton.

Such robots will eventually carry out dangerous operations such as space walks, Bloshenko told the state news agency RIA Novosti.

On the website of one of the state backers of the project, the Foundation of Advanced Research Projects, Fedor is described as potentially useful on Earth for working in high radiation environments, demining and tricky rescue missions.

Though initially developed for the emergencies ministry, Fedor can also be seen shooting at targets from two handguns in a video posted by Russian space agency chief Dmitry Rogozin.

On board, the robot will perform tasks supervised by Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, who joined the ISS in July and will wear an exoskeleton and augmented reality glasses in a series of experiments later this month.

Since Fedor is not trained to grab space station handles to move about in microgravity conditions, its legs will be immobilised on the space station, Bloshenko said.

Fedor not the first

Space agency chief Rogozin showed pictures of the robot to President Vladimir Putin this month, saying it will be "an assistant to the crew".

"In the future we plan that this machine will also help us conquer deep space," he added.

Russian media speculated that Fedor-like robots will be used in Russia's Moon programme.

Fedor is not the first robot to go into space.

In 2011, NASA sent up Robonaut 2, a humanoid robot developed with General Motors that had a similar aim of working in high-risk environments.

It was flown back to Earth in 2018 after experiencing technical problems.

In 2013, Japan sent up a small robot called Kirobo along with the ISS's first Japanese space commander. Developed with Toyota, it was able to hold conversations -- albeit only in Japanese.

Cuban diplomat starts working visit to Russia

Emilio Lozada, Director General for Bilateral Affairs of the Cuba´s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, begins today a working visit to the Russian Federation, which will run until next Friday.

In his program of activities, the diplomat includes meetings with local authorities to review and promote collaborative projects of interest to both nations, says a note of the Cuban Foreign Ministry.

Lozada arrives in Moscow from China, where he met with Zheng Zeguang, China´s Vice Foreign Minister, who is also in charge of Latin American and Caribbean affairs.

At that time, Vice Minister Zheng stressed that both countries are good friends, partners and brothers, and that in the future they will continue to work in an invariable way to deepen friendship ties and raise bilateral relations to a new level.

Meanwhile, the Cuban diplomat highlighted the excellent state of bilateral political relations and satisfaction with the progress of the links between the two Foreign Ministries and consultations on issues of interest to both parties.

  • Published in Cuba

Russia Criticizes Pompeo's Statements against Iran at UN

The Deputy Permanent Representative of Russia to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, this Wednesday criticized in the UN Security Council the statements of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo against Iran and his belligerent rhetoric towards that country.

The Russian diplomat stressed that Pompeo's speech contained many negative words, and was 'punctuated with direct provocations and demeaning sanctions,' adding 'not once did you use the word dialogue.'

He noted that the US Secretary of State presented Iran as the sole source of problems in the Middle East, 'a kind of empire of evil, so to speak.'

Such discourse and increasingly hostile sanctions only lead to the risk of an armed confrontation, any incident could trigger a conflict and it is urgent that both parties tread softly, he emphasized.

Conflicts must be solved by diplomatic and political means, sanctions and threats must be set aside, the Russian diplomat said at the UN Security Council meeting dedicated to the situation in the Middle East.

Currently, the Middle East is facing serious crises, so it is critical to look back to understand all mistakes made in the past and avoid falling into them once again, he added.

The most important conclusion is that unilateral action of any kind does not bring us closer to solving problems in the Middle East, he stressed.

Some states are trying to impose themselves against others, beyond the law, and promote policies aimed at creating instability and removing governments that are not to their liking, the Russian representative said.

This has only generated greater risks and more bloodshed, he noted. Therefore, international efforts in terms of diplomatic initiatives are urgently required, to avoid interference in internal affairs and military interventions.

According to Maria Luiza Viotti, chef de Cabinet to the UN Secretary-General, the situation in the Middle East is complex and characterized by a great number of divisions and lengthy armed conflicts.

In recent weeks there have been a series of incidents in the Strait of Hormuz which have increased tensions to very dangerous levels, she said.

Therefore, she stressed the need to keep communication channels open, and bring the parties in conflict to the negotiating table.

  • Published in World

‘One possible conclusion’: US banned-missile test apparently in works long before leaving INF

It took the US just 17 days after it was no longer officially bound by the INF Treaty to conduct a missile test that would have breached its rules. And it probably was breaching the treaty, given how long preparation takes.

On Sunday, the Pentagon fired a Tomahawk cruise missile from a truck-mounted Mark 41 Vertical Launching System to a distance of over 500km. The test was hardly unexpected. Both the missile and the launcher are time-tested, and their capabilities are publicly known. The only novelty was that the Mk41 was placed on a ground vehicle as opposed to a warship.

Also on US tests cruise missile BANNED by expired INF treaty...

If anything, the test was a demonstration of intent and attitude. It would have been legally impossible just a month ago, when the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty still forbade not only deploying but even developing weapon systems like the ground-based Tomahawk.

The INF kicked the bucket this year after years of bickering between the US and Russia over who was the worst at sticking to the spirit of the deal. Washington said the Russians had secretly developed a missile that was in violation. There was even secret intelligence to support the accusations – or at least to convince NATO allies not to question the US’ justification for withdrawal.

At the same time, the US developed and fired missiles banned by the treaty, saying it was OK since they were just target missiles and not actual missiles meant to kill and destroy. A similar explanation somehow didn’t work for North Korea with its satellite launch, which was instantly branded a clandestine ballistic missile test by the US. But when the US used one, Russia was expected to just go along.

Also on What’s INF & why does it matter?...

Washington also deployed the Mk41 VLS in Europe, claiming that they could only fire interceptor missiles to stop Iran from obliterating the Europeans, rather than directing Tomahawks at Russia. What a big surprise this new test must have been for every expert and defense official who said Moscow was overreacting to those missile defenses in Romania and Poland!

There is a notable pattern in Washington’s attitude to international relations, whereby it spots every speck on the record of others, while finding sensible-sounding solutions for any blemishes on its own. How is that work on destroying your chemical weapons going, by the way? For this test to come on such short notice is the latest example.

“In two weeks, one can prepare and get a green light for a test program, and even that would take extra effort,” RT’s defense expert Mikhail Khodarenok remarked. “The rest of it, including bringing the tested weapon system to the range, training the crew in its use, preparing the target, putting sensors in place – that cannot be done in two weeks.”

There is only one possible conclusion – the test was designed, organized, prepared and financed long before the US officially withdrew from the INF.

Now it turns out that all the while Washington was telling the world how the treaty could still be salvaged – if only Russia pled guilty and destroyed its stockpiles of missiles that supposedly violated the INF – it was also developing a weapon system that breached the very same treaty.

The work has been ongoing since at least February this year, according to a Department of Defense spokesperson quoted by RIA Novosti. This is right after the US announced its formal withdrawal and long before the expiration of the six-month grace period stipulated in the treaty. Who could have seen this one coming?

  • Published in World

FIVB Men's International Olympic Qualification Tournament set to begin with six tickets to Tokyo 2020 on offer

A group of 24 teams will begin their search for six available tickets to Tokyo 2020 tomorrow with the International Volleyball Federation Men’s International Olympic Qualification Tournament set to get underway.

The teams are divided into six pools of four, with the table toppers punching their tickets for next year’s Olympic Games.

Brazil, who triumphed at their home Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 to secure a third Olympic gold medal in their history, will compete in Pool A at the Palace of Culture and Sports in Varna along with hosts Bulgaria, Egypt and Puerto Rico.

They are the only country to have played in every single edition of the Olympic Games since volleyball was introduced to the programme at Tokyo 1964.

Reigning world champions Poland, meanwhile, will face some very tough opposition when they welcome France, Slovenia and Tunisia to the Pool D event at Ergo Arena in Gdańsk.

Rio 2016 silver medallists Italy will also need to overcome a huge hurdle when they meet Serbia at Palaflorio in Bari.

Australia and Cameroon complete the Pool C line-up.

Three-time Olympic champions the United States are on the road in their quest to make Tokyo 2020, travelling to the Rotterdam Ahoy to go up against hosts The Netherlands, Belgium and South Korea in Pool B.

The 24 teams are divided into six pools of four, with the table toppers punching their tickets for Tokyo 2020 ©FIVB
The 24 teams are divided into six pools of four, with the table toppers punching their tickets for Tokyo 2020 ©FIVB

The Americans were bronze medallists last time around in Rio 2016.

Reigning European champions Russia are at home at the Sibur Arena in Saint Petersburg, but they are in for a tough challenge from Iran in Pool E, which also includes Cuba and Mexico.

This is the only qualification pool in which all four participants played at Rio 2016.

Russia finished fourth after blowing a two-set lead against the US in the bronze medal match, while Cuba and Mexico failed to make it beyond the preliminary round.

Argentina and Canada are expected to battle it out for glory in Pool F at Beilun Gymnasium in Ningbo, where they also face hosts China and Finland for a spot at Tokyo 2020.

Both the South and North Americans were knocked out in the quarter-finals at Rio 2016, with Argentina losing to Brazil and Canada falling to defeat at the hands of Russia.

The six table toppers will be joining Japan at Tokyo 2020, with the hosts having already claimed one of the 12 available berths.

A further five teams will emerge in January from the Continental Olympic Qualifying Tournaments to complete the Tokyo 2020 line-up.

  • Published in Sports

Varadero wagers on more Russian tourism

The world-famous Varadero beach resort is wagering on Russian tourism to increase its number of international visitors in 2019.

Russian tour operator Coral Travel will begin operations in Cuba’s largest sun and beach destination on August 10, when the first flight of the Royal Flight airline from Moscow will land at the Varadero airport, Prensa Latina (PL) reported.

The flight, which will have a frequency every ten days, will use a Boeing 777 with capacity for 492 passengers.

The Cuban Ministry of Tourism (MINTUR) said that this new channel with Russia “will strengthen the growth of the aforementioned market” and attributed the preference of Russian visitors for the resort to “the excellence of the tourist services offered.”

Coral Travel operations in Varadero will be carried out through the Meeting Point Company and under the representation of the local Cubatur travel agency, PL noted.

According to MINTUR, Russian tourists rank in second place among foreign visitors to the famous beach, only preceded by those from Canada.

Varadero, which has more than 50 hotel facilities and 21,000 rooms, receives more than 1.5 million tourists a year.

The Russian market is one of the fastest growing for tourism in Cuba. In 2018 it reached around 137,000 visitors, a figure that MINTUR expects to surpass this year.

Currently, Cuban tourism is suffering the consequences of the recent measures of the Donald Trump government, which further restricted U.S. travel to the Island and banned U.S. cruise ships from visiting Cuban ports.

This is why Cuba drastically reduced its forecast of foreign visitors expected in 2019, when it lowered the initial plan of more than 5 million tourists―an all-time record for the island―to only 4.3 million, and is seeking to boost emerging markets such as Russia, China and Latin America.

  • Published in Cuba

Iconic Cuban statue back on display

The iconic Statue of the Republic, a giant in-door piece of art, reopened to the public here this week after a year-long repair and gold-plating.

The over 18-meter-high statue returned to the lobby of the National Capital Building, a public edifice built between 1926 and 1929.

Former President Raul Castro and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended the reopening ceremony.

For eight months, a group of Russian specialists had restored and applied a thin layer of 24-karat gold to the bronze statue, with materials donated by the Russian government.

Apart from that, Russia-based company CMC Development is also responsible for coating the dome of the National Capitol Building for celebrating the 500th anniversary of Havana's foundation in next November.

The statue had also undergone dirt and rust removal as well as repairs in the chips and cracks. Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal called the restoration "very serious."

The statue represents the virtues and long-lasting morale of Cuban people, who began their fight for independence in 1868. It is also an expression of an "undefeated and fighting nation," Leal said.

The 50-ton statue, standing on a marble pedestal two meters and a half in width, was created by lated Italian sculptor Angelo Zanelli.

According to Cuban historians, the statue's contour was modeled after two Cuban girls, while its image was inspired by the Greek goddess Athena.

"I've brought my children to the Capitol, and we always stopped before the Statue of the Republic because it is something admirable," said Irma Echeverria, a mother works for a government-run trade firm.

Her family returned here "to compare and see how beautiful it is" after the restoration."

  • Published in Cuba
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