Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was set to meet the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia in Caracas yesterday to sign military and energy deals that broaden Russia’s footprint in Latin America.
Putin’s first visit to Venezuela underscores Russia’s deepening relations with Latin America’s leading leftist regime and serves as a doorway to a region long considered by the US as its own back yard.
Russia and Venezuela signed 12 military agreements worth US$4.4 billion in 2005 and 2007 and those deals caused some concern in Washington.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez last week thanked Russia for helping Venezuela “bolster its defensive potential” in the face of “threats” from the US as he announced Putin’s visit.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to seek a US$100 million loan from Russia to purchase military hardware, including an Antonov aircraft for the president’s use, officials in La Paz said.
Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, arrived in Caracas on Wednesday to prepare for Putin’s visit.
Putin and Chavez will sign “accords taking us to the next phase of cooperation with Russia, which no longer will be limited to energy and military matters, but now also includes social, cultural and health issues,” Vice President Elias Jaua said on Thursday speaking on state-run VTV television.
Topping the list is an agreement to set up a Russian-Venezuelan development bank to finance a joint venture for oil and gas exploration in eastern Venezuela’s oil-rich Orinoco river basin.
The enterprise — 60 percent owned by Venezuela, 40 percent by a consortium of Russian companies — hopes to extract up to 450,000 barrels of oil per day from the Amazon region.
Putin and Chavez will also sign cooperation deals in agriculture, transportation, and the prevention of natural catastrophes, according to the meeting agenda.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Venezuela in November during joint naval exercises. Chavez visited Moscow in September, and Morales traveled to the Russian capital in mid-February this year.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro on Thursday said Russian-Venezuelan cooperation was based on “mutual trust in matters of security and defense ... that has allowed us to upgrade all technology and equipment in our armed forces.”
Morales and Putin, meanwhile, are expected to discuss their own joint venture for gas and oil exploration in Bolivia, which has the second largest natural gas reserves in Latin America.
While in Moscow in February, Morales and Medvedev signed a memorandum on energy cooperation to develop a gas pipeline network in the land-locked South American nation.
Medvedev at the time also told Morales he hoped Russia would soon deliver a batch of military helicopters, its first defense hardware to the Andean republic.
The head of Russia’s military cooperation service, Mikhail Dmitriyev, said that Moscow was ready to grant Bolivia a loan to buy Russian military hardware. That loan was due to be confirmed during yesterday’s summit.
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