Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to quadruple bilateral trade with Cuba, blaming sanctions on the communist island for preventing relations from flourishing.

NATO-member Turkey’s leader spoke at a joint presser with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel in Ankara on Wednesday, highlighting his efforts to cultivate ties with former Cold War enemies such as Cuba and Russia as part of his increasingly independent foreign policy.

Turkey and Cuba agreed to work toward increasing the bilateral trade to $200 million, Erdogan said after the two presidents oversaw the signing of six cooperation agreements including one between the central banks of the two countries.

“It is obvious that sanctions have an effect on the fact that our relations remain below their true potential,” Erdogan said, referring to the six-decade-old US trade embargo on Cuba.

Diaz-Canel. who became the first Cuban leader to visit Turkey since late Fidel Castro attended an international conference in Istanbul in 1996, expressed gratitude to Turkey for its help to ease the economic and financial blockade on his country. 

Turkey has supplied powership vessels to Cuba to help meet its energy need and also formed partnerships in health and tourism since Erdogan visited the communist island in 2015. Diaz-Canel invited Erdogan to visit Cuba again.

Diaz-Canel’s visit coincided with the 70th anniversary of the inception of diplomatic ties between the two nations. Turkey’s ties with Cuba and Russia are developing more than half a century after the US withdrew its Jupiter missiles from the country in exchange for the removal of Soviet launchers from Cuba.

That helped to end the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, but Turkey has remained haunted by the weakness of its air defense ever since, driving its acquisition of a Russian missile-defense system in 2019.

The Russian S-400 missiles remain a sore point in relations with Washington as Turkey seeks to buy US-made F-16 warplanes and upgrade kits to modernize its aging fleet.