September 26, 2008
ORENBURG, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez agreed to draft an energy pact on Friday, drawing Moscow closer to Washington's most ardent Latin American foe.
Chavez, known for his anti-U.S. rhetoric, hosted a visit by Russian bomber planes to Venezuela this month and Russian warships will hold exercises there in November, the first such maneuvers in the Americas since the Cold War.
The establishment of closer ties between the two countries -- including two visits by Chavez to Moscow since July -- followed a rift between Moscow and Washington over Russia's brief war with its neighbor Georgia in August.
Russia announced this week it was making available to Venezuela a $1 billion loan to cover purchases of arms and military equipment from Russian manufacturers.
With Medvedev and Chavez watching, Russia's Gazprom gas giant signed a memorandum of understanding with Venezuela's PDVSA state oil firm and the two countries' energy ministers agreed to draw up an energy cooperation pact.
"Esteemed President, dear Hugo, I am glad to greet the delegation of our friend Venezuela," a smiling Medvedev said as he greeted Chavez at the start of their talks in the town of Orenburg in the southern Urals.
"This dynamic in our relationship points to the solid foundation of our ties," Medvedev said. "Our cooperation is multi-faceted ... it includes economic and military ties."
Chavez expressed his "full, modest but firm support" for Moscow's military intervention in Georgia, although Venezuela did not match Russia's recognition of Georgia's separatist South Ossetia and Abkhazia regions as independent states.
Western governments accused Russia of acting disproportionately when it launched a massive counter-attack to crush an attempt by Georgian forces to retake South Ossetia.
Chavez added: "We know how South Ossetia's peaceful residents were attacked."
Chavez met Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow late on Thursday, and was given an undertaking that Russia would consider helping Venezuela develop nuclear power plants.
Chavez, who met Medvedev on the sidelines of a joint military exercise by Russia and Kazakhstan, addressed his Russian counterpart as "president and friend."
He thanked Medvedev for sending two TU-160 bombers to Venezuela this month, and took a swipe at Washington.
"Although someone there in the north of our continent said that those were obsolete airplanes, we were delighted by these aircraft," said Chavez, speaking through an interpreter.
Russia denied the dispatch of ships and aircraft to Venezuela was directed at Washington, but the deployments were announced soon after Medvedev complained about U.S. warships in the Black Sea, traditionally part of Russia's sphere of influence.
The development of closer ties with Venezuela "should not be politicized," one Russian official said this week. He said it was driven mainly by economic interests and the search for business opportunities that would benefit both sides.
(Reporting by Denis Dyomkin; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Dobbie)