St. Petersburg: Russian President Vladimir Putin said here on Saturday that he views the rapprochement between Cuba and the US as a positive step.

He, however, declined to comment on the situation in Venezuela, citing Russia’s custom of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.

Putin, who agreed to an interview with the presidents of the world’s 12 largest news agencies, including EFE, began the session with an apology for having arrived four hours late.

“I want to apologise that we have gone past midnight, but you already know why it has happened. It has to do with the desire of my colleagues who came to the — St. Petersburg International Economic — forum to discuss various subjects. And it is difficult to interrupt meetings,” he told the assembled news agency presidents.

The initial minutes of the exchange were broadcast live on Russian television, but the bulk of the encounter took place behind closed doors, without any recording devices.

Asked about Latin America, Putin said it is a priority for Russia and that Moscow intends to pursue expanded and political collaboration with the countries in the region.

He was unwilling to directly address the political conflict in Venezuela, or the international efforts on behalf of jailed Venezuelan politicians.

The Russian leader stressed that it has always been Moscow’s policy to respect the internal decisions of other nations.

With regard to Cuba, he offered explicit support for Cuba’s opening to the world and the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington.

Noting the suffering of the Cuban people from the US economic embargo imposed in 1962, he said the end of the embargo would be positive for the island and for the rest of the hemisphere, giving short shrift to the notion that closer ties between Havana and Washington could diminish Russian influence in Cuba.

The increase in belligerent rhetoric between Russia and the US does not mean the world is at greater risk of nuclear confrontation, Putin said.

The issue is one of correcting errors, he said, referring to the fact that Russia had to respond by saying that it would install 40 additional nuclear missiles after the US announced plans to increase its military presence, including heavy artillery, in Eastern Europe.

Russia is not an aggressor and does not favour increasing the level of tension, Putin stressed, but is obliged to respond to Western actions targeting Moscow.

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