Chavez Will Meet Medvedev in Orenburg

APChavez arriving in Beijing on Tuesday for talks on economic cooperation.
Just days after Moscow dispatched a Navy squadron to Venezuela, the Latin American country's president will touch down in Orenburg for a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.

Hugo Chavez, an outspoken ally of Moscow, is stopping over during a flight from China to France, officials from the Venezuelan Embassy and Orenburg regional administration said Tuesday.

The choice of Orenburg, capital of a region stretching along the border with Kazakhstan, is connected solely to Medvedev's schedule, a Venezuelan Embassy official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media.

Alxei Likhtin, deputy information minister in the Orenburg regional government, confirmed that the two presidents were expected to meet later this week but refused to elaborate. "Apparently yes, but we do not know what sort of visit this will be, whether in the city of Orenburg or outside," Likhtin said by telephone.

The Kremlin declined to comment. A spokesman, Andrei Solesnikov, merely said that no official announcement would be made Tuesday.

The presidents will sign a bilateral cooperation agreement on energy, science and technology, Itar-Tass reported, citing a television address by Chavez last week.

It was also unclear whether Chavez would meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday that he could not comment yet.

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin led a delegation of ministers and business executives to Caracas, where he oversaw deals to develop offshore gas fields with state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela. Sechin also is chairman of state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

Moscow has intensified trade ties with Caracas in recent years, but after this summer's military campaign in Georgia, which sent relations with the West plummeting, the Kremlin stepped up military cooperation with the government of Chavez, a fiery leftist and critic of the United States.

Russia's decision to send warships to Venezuela for a military exercise Monday appears to be a response to the U.S. dispatch of warships to deliver aid to Georgia last month. Two Russian strategic bombers visited the country earlier this month, the first such flight to the Western Hemisphere since the end of the Cold War.

Chavez said in an interview shown on Russian television Sunday that Latin America needed strong ties with Russia to reduce U.S. influence and maintain peace in the region. Speaking on his Sunday TV and radio program, he joked that he would visit to Russia and other countries this week aboard the "super-bombers that Medvedev loaned me." "Gentlemen of the CIA, to be clear, I'm joking," Chavez said with a laugh.

Chavez arrived in China on Tuesday for talks on closer economic cooperation. Minutes after stepping onto Chinese soil, he paid tribute to China's late autocratic leader Mao Zedong and said he hoped to build a joint tanker fleet and nearly double oil exports to the world's No. 2 consumer next year, Reuters reported.

He also unveiled early plans for new refinery projects in China. "We are talking about three refineries to bring our crude, which is heavy, and process it here in China," he told reporters.

Saying he was "a Maoist," he recommended Vladimir Lenin's book "Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism." But Chinese diplomats preferred to focus on business ties.

"Sino-Venezuelan relations have no ideological hue, are not aimed at any third party and do not affect Venezuela's ties with any other country," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said, Reuters reported.

Chavez embarked on a multi-country tour last weekend in Cuba, where he met ailing leader Fidel Castro. He said last week that he planned to visit France and Portugal before returning to Venezuela.