His new master's voice

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Cuban President Fidel Castro embrace before Putin's departure from Varadero, Cuba Sunday, Dec. 17, 2000. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia)

Fidel Castro is nothing if not loyal to his friends. Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, was his friend when he took power, and Russia may be his friend again today. He clearly doesn't want to do anything that might mess that up.

In between was a terrible time from 1989 until recently that Mr. Castro calls the "Special Period." That began when Cuba was denied the hefty subsidies formerly provided by Moscow. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez did help with some cut-rate oil, but it was not enough. The Cuban sugar industry, formerly dependent on Soviet purchases, collapsed and with it the Cuban economy.

Now along comes Vladimir Putin, with his dreams of reviving Russia as a world power on the Soviet model, and Mr. Castro seems to think that happy days are here again. Mr. Putin came to Havana earlier this month and left behind vague promises to reopen a costly anti-American spy base in the Pearl of the Antilles. Mr. Putin recently denied it, but authoritative Russian sources have reported that the deal is on.

Whatever the case, Mr. Castro is not taking chances. When the Kremlin reported on July 17 that Mr. Putin had told his cabinet that the downing by a ground-fired missile of the Malaysia Airlines flight was the fault of Ukraine, Fidel was quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Writing in his July 18 column in the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, Mr. Castro said the airliner had been downed "as it flew over Ukrainian territory, along a route controlled by the war-hungry government of chocolate king Petro Poroshenko. Cuba ... cannot refrain from expressing our repudiation of the action of the anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian and pro-imperialist government."

There is no call, please notice, for a suspension of judgment until the facts are known.

Not even Mr. Putin's cynical words to his cabinet, holding Ukraine responsible for the conflict with the Russian-led and Russian-supplied separatists, went as far toward falsely placing the blame on the Ukrainian government as these eager barks from Cuba.

Whether Mr. Castro has a cynical view of the world to match Mr. Putin, or a simple willingness to be duped, the Cuban leader's unsubtle words were clearly issued in response to his new master's voice.