Evoking Castro, Putin and Cuban leader pledge to deepen ties

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Cuban counterpart Miguel Diaz-Canel unveiled a monument in a north Moscow square on Tuesday to Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, pledging to deepen their friendship in the face of U.S. sanctions against both countries.

Castro, who took power in 1959, is not commemorated by statues in his homeland because, his brother Raul said after his death in 2016, he wanted to avoid a personality cult.

But Putin evoked his memory as he told Diaz-Canel the two countries needed to build on the "solid foundation of friendship" established between Castro and Soviet leaders.

"It's a real work of art - dynamic, in motion, moving forward. It creates the image of a fighter," Putin said of the statue, which portrays Castro gazing into the distance with hands on hips.

Diaz-Canel said through a translator: "I think it reflects the personality of Fidel in the struggle, as we find ourselves in struggle today."

Russia, hit by Western sanctions over the conflict in Ukraine, is looking to strengthen political and economic ties with other countries opposed to what it calls U.S. hegemony. Cuba has been under a U.S. economic embargo since 1962 after the Communist revolution led by Castro.

Addressing the Russian parliament, Diaz-Canel showed his solidarity by directly endorsing Moscow's stated pretext for sending its troops into Ukraine.

"The reasons for the current conflict in this zone must be sought in the aggressive policy of the United States and the expansion of NATO towards Russia's borders," he said.

Ukraine and its Western allies reject that argument as a specious justification for an illegal war of occupation.

Under Castro, Cuba was a close ally of Moscow and found itself at the centre of one of the gravest crises of the Cold War when, in 1962, the United States detected the construction of Soviet launch sites on the Caribbean island for firing ballistic missiles capable of hitting U.S. cities.

The resulting standoff, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, brought the United States and the Soviet Union close to the brink of nuclear war.

U.S. President Joe Biden said last month that the world was closer to "Armageddon" than at any time since that date, as the Ukraine conflict has raised fears of a wider confrontation between Russia and NATO. Russian politicians have also evoked the Cuban crisis as a warning from the past.

Asked about possible parallels, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "The crises are different, although both then and now we are talking about a clash between us and the collective West led by the United States."

He added: "The experience of the Caribbean crisis has been studied and will continue to be studied, but this will not be the main thing in the talks" between Putin and Diaz-Canel.

(Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Nick Macfie)