November 08, 2008
CARACAS -- Venezuelan and Russian officials have agreed to create a $4 billion joint development bank to finance gas production, aluminum mining and other projects, Venezuela's information ministry said Saturday.
It was not clear how much each energy-rich country would contribute as oil and gas prices continue to slide, but Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez said his country could tap its foreign currency reserves to bankroll the fund.
''Russia and Venezuela are establishing a strategic alliance,'' Chavez said as he and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin mingled Friday with workers from the nations' two state-run oil and gas companies on a drilling platform in the Gulf of Venezuela.
''We have freed ourselves from Yankee imperialism,'' Chávez said.
The men inaugurated the first Venezuelan-Russian offshore natural gas project, with Chávez hailing his country's increasingly close ties to Russia as a counterweight to U.S. influence.
Venezuela has South America's largest natural gas reserves, including 27 trillion cubic feet in the Gulf of Venezuela, but they've remained largely untapped while the country focused on oil. Russia's state gas company Gazprom won a contract to develop two Venezuelan natural gas blocks in 2005 and is expected to start producing there by 2013.
Russian oil companies have been invited to drill in the Orinoco River Basin, which is considered the world's largest-known single oil deposit with up to 1.2 trillion barrels. They may also build a $6.5 billion refinery to process Venezuela's extra-heavy crude, helping the South American country wean itself off the U.S. refineries it now relies on.
Ties between Caracas and Moscow have blossomed under Chávez, with Venezuela buying more than $4 billion in Russian weapons since 2005.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to visit Venezuela later this month, when Venezuelan and Russian naval fleets hold joint exercises on the Caribbean Sea.
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