November 27, 2008
LA GUAIRA, Venezuela -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to help start a nuclear energy program in Venezuela and then departed for Cuba Thursday in a tour aimed at restoring ties that have dwindled since the Cold War.
Medvedev used his visit to Venezuela - the first by a Russian president - to raise Russia's profile in Latin America and deepen trade and military ties. Chavez denied trying to provoke the United States, but he welcomed Russia's growing presence in Latin America as a step away from U.S. influence toward a "multi-polar world."
The two leaders toured a Russian destroyer docked in a Venezuelan port, one of two large Russian warships that arrived this week for training exercises in the first deployment of its kind in the Caribbean since the Cold War.
Chavez saluted the captain, and while touring the vessel joked to reporters from the deck: "We're going to Cuba!" The warships will hold joint exercises with Venezuela's navy next week.
Business deals also were high on Medvedev's agenda: Russia pledged to help Venezuela with oil projects and building ships, while Chavez's government signed a deal to buy two Russian-made Ilyushin Il-96 passenger jets to add to the state airline's fleet for long-range flights.
Wednesday's accords included a pledge of cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy.
Moscow plans to develop a nuclear cooperation program with Venezuela by the end of next year, said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian Federal Atomic Energy Agency.
"We are ready to teach students in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering," he said. He said the help would include "research and development" and "looking for uranium in the territory of Venezuela."
Chavez says Venezuela hopes to build a nuclear reactor for energy purposes.
Medvedev also said Russia is ready to "think about participating" in a regional socialist trade bloc led by Chavez, likely as an associate member.
Chavez launched the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, as an alternative to U.S.-backed free-trade pacts.
Cuba is the last stop on a four-nation tour, which also included visits to Peru and Brazil and talks in Caracas with Bolivia's Evo Morales and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.
Medvedev said he also discussed the global financial crisis with Chavez, and "exchanged different ideas of what actions to take in this situation." Chavez blames the financial crisis on U.S. free-market capitalism.
Venezuela has bought more than $4 billion in Russian arms, including Sukhoi fighter jets, helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles.
Medvedev pledged to keep supplying Chavez with weapons, saying Russia has a "pragmatic relationship" with Venezuela and the arms sales aren't meant to threaten any country.