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Russian state-owned Novikombank opens Havana office

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Russia's Novikombank said on Thursday it had become the first bank from the country to open a representative office in Cuba as part of growing economic ties between the former Cold War allies.

The Russian state-owned bank said in a statement that Cuba's central bank had granted it a license on June 7. There was no immediate comment from Cuban authorities or the central bank.

"The opening of a Novikom representative office in the Republic of Cuba is not only a new stage for the bank, but also an important step in Russian-Cuban relations," board chairwoman Elena Georgieva was quoted as saying in the announcement.

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Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow's already warm relations with the Communist-run Caribbean nation have strengthened into a "strategic partnership," with a number of possible investment projects in sugar, transportation and energy under discussion.

Last week, a Russian navy frigate and a nuclear-powered submarine docked in Havana, a move widely seen as a show of force from Moscow amid tensions with the West over the Ukraine conflict.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has visited Moscow four times in the last few years.

Novikombank said it planned to support Russian clients' trade and investment activity in Cuba.

"The governments of both countries are increasing the volume of cooperation in every way," the statement said.

Since 2022 Russian tourists have visited the island in greater numbers and oil and wheat shipments have provided some relief amid a grueling crisis characterized by shortages of basic goods, inflation and power outages that has sparked record migration.

Cuba is one of just a handful of countries that accepts the Russian MIR credit card.

Cuba first opened to foreign banks in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. Most European and Canadian banks have left in recent years due to the crisis and fear of U.S. sanctions. But that is unlikely to deter Novikombank, which is already under sanctions by the United States and other countries over the Ukraine war.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Nelson Acosta. Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)