CARACAS – Venezuela and Russia bolstered bilateral ties during a visit to the South American country by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, signing dozens of accords in a range of sectors, most notably defense and energy.
At the end of the ceremony in which several of the agreements were inked, leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who first took office in 1999, hailed the increase in bilateral cooperation with Russia during his presidency.
“Vladimir Putin has helped shape a multipolar world and has contributed to the end of unipolar hegemony,” the leftist leader and staunch critic of U.S. foreign policy said.
He added that both countries agree on the need to work for “the end of empires, so that a new world of progress, of social happiness, a world of peace emerges.”
“Russia and Venezuela are on that path and we’ll be more united every day,” the Venezuelan leader said.
Putin said the goal is “to make the world more democratic, balanced and multi-polar” and highlighted the different accords signed on Friday, including ones regarding joint oil ventures in the vast Orinoco Belt of eastern Venezuela, particularly the Junin 6 block.
He said in that regard that an agreement was reached on the payment of $1 billion by a consortium of five Russian firms for the rights to help develop Junin 6. During the ceremony, Putin delivered Chavez an initial down payment of $600 million.
The Russian premier said that the boost given to bilateral relations by his first visit to Venezuela paves the way for “full cooperation” as an “antidote to global economic crises.”
The different agreements signed on Friday covered a range of sectors, including energy, defense, infrastructure, transportation, technology, agriculture, education, culture and industry.
In the energy area, a letter of intent was signed for the involvement of Russia’s National Petroleum Consortium in three other Orinoco blocks known as Ayacucho 2, Ayacucho 3 and Junin 3.
The U.S. Geological Survey said earlier this year that the Orinoco Belt contains one of the world’s largest recoverable oil accumulations with an estimated 513 billion barrels of technically recoverable heavy oil.
Both governments also signed several memoranda of understanding for the construction of gas and oil tankers; studies for the installation of an electricity plant; and cooperation in energy-planning projects.
Venezuela is suffering a severe electricity crisis that has led to forced cutbacks in consumption and prompted the government to make the entire Holy Week a national holiday.
Chavez has acknowledged a lack of timely investment in the electricity sector, but mainly blames the crisis on drought conditions resulting from the El Nińo weather phenomenon.
One agreement signed Friday concerned the possible supply of Russian-made planes to Venezuela and other Latin American countries, while another called for defining the mechanisms for organizing flights between Caracas and Moscow via Havana and Madrid.
Other accords concerned the purchase of some 2,000 Lada automobiles, scientific research programs, cultural and university exchanges, the recognition and equivalency of documents and titles and stronger cooperation in agriculture.
Putin was presented with the Order of the Liberator, Venezuela’s highest distinction, and a replica of South American independence hero Simon Bolivar’s sword, while the two leaders also signed two statements related to the celebration of the bicentennial of Venezuelan independence and the commemoration of the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II.
In his speech, Chavez also said Russia was willing to help Venezuela build its first nuclear power plant, “obviously for peaceful purposes,” as well as assist with development of a space program, an area in which “Russia has a great deal of experience.”
During Putin’s visit, Venezuela received four Russian Mi-17 helicopters, the last of a batch of 38 choppers purchased in 2006, and Chavez also announced the purchase of at least one Beriev-200 (Be-200) hydroplane for fire fighting.
The Russian president arrived Friday morning in Venezuela, where he was received with military honors by Chavez at the Simon Bolivar International Airport, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside Caracas.
After the ceremony, both leaders traveled to the nearby port of La Guaira and boarded the Russian training vessel Kruzenshtern.
Putin later visited the National Pantheon of Venezuela in downtown Caracas and placed a wreath on Bolivar’s tomb before arriving at the Miraflores presidential palace for a five-hour meeting with Chavez.
The Russian leader returned to Russia Friday night after a brief meeting with Bolivian President Evo Morales, a close Chavez ally, in Caracas.
Morales said he asked Putin for a loan to purchase helicopters to assist in combating drug trafficking.