The New York Times
July 22, 2008
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia at a news conference on Tuesday at the Russian presidential residence in Gorki, outside Moscow.
MOSCOW — President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia declared Tuesday that their countries would more closely coordinate their actions on global oil and gas markets and that they would work together on foreign policy, a sphere in which both countries have sought to counter American influence.
Mr. Chávez, who was also expected to sign contracts to purchase more than $1 billion worth of Russian arms, called for the two nations to become “strategic partners” to defend against what he called an American threat to his country.
“That will guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela, which the United States is now threatening,” Mr. Chávez said, according to the official Russian news agency RIA-Novosti, at the start of two days of planned meetings.
Mr. Medvedev, who met Mr. Chávez for the first time since succeeding Vladimir V. Putin as president, stopped short of endorsing his guest’s sharp remarks about the United States. So did Russian officials, who stressed the business significance of the new cooperation, including three new deals to expand Russian oil and gas companies’ presence in Latin America, rather than its political import.
But Mr. Medvedev noted that the two countries aimed to promote the United Nations as the primary venue for settling international disputes.
“We think that it is our common task to achieve a more democratic, just and secure world,” Mr. Medvedev said, according to the Interfax news agency. “We are ready to work on this, together with the Venezuelan president.”
Mr. Medvedev said it was still possible that Russia could join with Venezuela and other gas-producing nations to form a cartel similar to OPEC, a concept that has been under discussion for several years.
He said that such cooperation would help guarantee energy security and was “not directed against any states.”
Mr. Chávez’s visit to Moscow presents something of a diplomatic puzzle for Russia. Mr. Chávez, a leading opponent of American global influence, has made clear that he would be happy to join Russia’s efforts to re-establish itself as a counterweight to the United States.
But with Russia’s opposition Communist Party loudly embracing Mr. Chávez, and Russian companies eager to expand trade with Latin American countries that are wary of him, like Colombia, the Russian government so far has not publicly embraced his sharper anti-American statements.
“Russia’s foreign policy is not about anti-Americanism,” said Dmitri Trenin, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center.
He said that while Russia sometimes clashed with the West, and was happy to have Mr. Chávez taunt the United States much as Georgia’s pro-American government taunted Russia, it was focused on the interests of the state-controlled arms and oil companies that remained global players.
“We want to get richer,” Mr. Trenin said.
Venezuela is Russia’s largest arms customer in Latin America and a fast-growing trade partner. Trade doubled to $1.1 billion last year, driven by Russian exports.
Russia’s gas and oil giants, TNK-BP, Lukoil and Gazprom, each signed agreements in Mr. Chávez’s presence to explore reserves in Venezuela’s Orinoco Valley.
Lukoil and TNK-BP signed agreements to conduct joint explorations with the Venezuelan state oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela. Gazprom agreed to conduct a geological study of gas reserves in the area, and reportedly was discussing the possibility of helping to build a pipeline to Brazil.
The visit follows a series of events that have highlighted some Russian-American tensions, and comes as Russia is reaching out diplomatically to other countries seeking to limit American influence.
On Monday, Russia announced the end of a long-running border dispute with China, and officials stressed the warming relations between the countries. Earlier this month, Russia and China both vetoed an American-backed United Nations attempt to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. Russia also objected to a recent agreement between the United States and the Czech Republic for a planned missile defense system based in the former Soviet satellite.
Venezuela’s new arms purchases are expected to include as many as 20 S-300 Thor antiaircraft missile systems, and three Varshavyanka diesel submarines, Interfax reported, citing defense industry sources.
Venezuela had previously purchased 100,000 late-version Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifles, 24 Su-30MK2 fighters and 50 MI helicopters, and work is under way for factories in Venezuela to produce the rifles under license.
During Mr. Chávez’s previous visits, however, Russian officials have been careful not to express support of his anti-American statements.