Septembre 25, 2008
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia -- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to make relations with Latin America a top foreign policy priority, a pledge backed by the first Russian naval deployment to the Caribbean since the Cold War.
Putin greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on his second trip to Russia in just over two months, with offers to discuss further arms sales to Venezuela and possibly helping it to develop nuclear energy.
Chavez's visit takes place as a Russian naval squadron sails to Venezuela, across the Caribbean Sea from the United States, in a pointed response to what the Kremlin has cast as threatening U.S. encroachment near its own borders.
Both men suggested their countries are working to decrease U.S. global influence.
"Latin America is becoming a noticeable link in the chain of the multi-polar world that is forming," Putin said at his suburban residence at the start of his talks with Chavez. "We will pay more and more attention to this vector of our economic and foreign policy."
Putin did not mention any specifics of potential Russian-Venezuelan military cooperation in his opening remarks, but Russian news reports said that Venezuela could buy Russian air defense missiles and more Sukhoi fighter jets.
Earlier Thursday, a Kremlin official who spoke on customary condition of anonymity said that Russia would grant Venezuela a $1 billion credit for the purchase of Russian weaponry in an effort to help Venezuela revamp its military forces.
Russia has signed contracts worth more than $4.4 billion with Venezuela since 2005 to supply arms including fighter jets, helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Putin did not specify what kind of cooperation Russia could offer Venezuela in the nuclear field, but Russia is aggressively promoting itself as a builder of nuclear power plants and supplier of fuel to nations seeking nuclear energy.
Chavez, who addressed Putin as "my dear friend Vladimir," said that stronger ties with Russia would help build a multi-polar world _ a term Russia and Venezuela use to describe their shared opposition to the perceived U.S. global domination.
"I think that today more than ever before what you have said about a multi-polar world is becoming reality," Chavez told Putin. He said he brought greetings from Cuban leader Fidel Castro, another staunch U.S. enemy.
Both leaders have used criticism of the U.S. to boost their popularity at home and advance foreign policy objectives.
Russia is the latest leg in a tour taking Chavez to a number of nations whose governments are eager to counter U.S. global clout. He stopped briefly in Cuba on his way to China, where he touted agreements to increase oil exports and purchase military jets.
Signaling similar interests in Russia, Chavez said he and President Dmitry Medvedev will observe military exercises when they meet Friday in the southern Orenburg region. The region near Kazakhstan's border is home to oil industry facilities.
In an interview broadcast on Russian television before the visit, Chavez said that Venezuela and Latin America as a whole need "friends like Russia" to help them shed U.S. "domination" and ensure peace.
Russia has ramped up its cooperation with Caracas further since last month's war with Georgia, which has badly damaged Moscow's already strained ties with the West and particularly the United States.
Russia's deployment of warships to Venezuela for naval maneuvers came after the United States used naval ships to ferry aid to Georgia after the war _ a mission Russian officials harshly criticized.
The Russian naval deployment follows a weeklong visit to Venezuela by a pair of Russian strategic bombers. On his Sunday TV and radio program, Chavez joked that he would be making his international tour aboard the "super-bombers that Medvedev loaned me."
Chavez has also talked about creating "a new strategic energy alliance" with between the oil-rich nations.
After visiting Venezuela this month, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin said five major Russian oil companies are looking to form a consortium to increase Latin American operations and to build a $6.5 billion refinery to process Venezuelan crude.
Putin said that Russia's Gazprom state natural gas giant will launch its first drilling rig next month to tap Venezuela's offshore gas reserves.