Putin to visit Cuba and other LatAm nations

Moscow (AFP) - President Vladimir Putin will next week begin a major Latin America tour that will take him to Cuba, Argentina and Brazil as he seeks to counter Russia's growing international isolation over the Ukraine crisis.

Putin will begin his six-day tour with the July 11 visit to Cuba, where he will meet President Raul Castro and the 87-year-old father of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, the Kremlin said on Friday.

The visit to the Communist-run island will come as tensions remain high between Russia and the West over the Ukraine crisis. Havana has sided with its old ally Russia in the conflict.

Putin and his Cuban hosts are expected to discuss cooperation in energy, transport, aviation, space and health, the Kremlin said.

Ahead of the visit, Russian parliament voted on Friday to write off 90 percent of Cuba's Soviet-era debt of more than $35 billion (26 billion euros) and said the rest would be earmarked for investment projects in Cuba.

From Cuba, Putin will travel to Argentina for trade and energy talks with President Cristina Kirchner, before moving on to a summit of the BRICS group of developing countries in Brazil.

On the sidelines of the summit, Putin is expected to meet leaders of China, India and South Africa, the Kremlin said.

The highlight of the trip's final leg will be a handover ceremony at the end of the World Cup finals, where Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will pass on responsibility for the tournament to Putin.

Russia will host the football extravaganza in 2018 and has pledged to spend billions of dollars on stadiums and infrastructure for the tournament.

The Kremlin strongman will also meet with Brazilian business people as he seeks investment for his country's embattled economy.