Medvedev and Chavez Sign Oil, Nuclear Deals

President Dmitry Medvedev and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez agreed to form joint ventures to pump crude oil and to increase military and nuclear cooperation Wednesday in the first visit by a Russian president to the South American country.

The two leaders toured the nuclear-powered navy cruiser Peter the Great, docked in a Venezuelan port on Thursday, 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 ship's captain and while touring the vessel with Medvedev joked to reporters from the deck, "We're going to Cuba!" Venezuelan and Russian flags both flew aboard the cruiser.

On board the cruiser, the two presidents oversaw an agreement for Ilyushin Financial, a Moscow-based aircraft leasing company, to sell two Il-96 long-haul aircraft to Venezuela.

"We're developing full-fledged relations in the arms sphere," Medvedev said late Wednesday. "These ties aren't directed against any other country. They are based on partnership and a pragmatic understanding of the situation in the world."

Moscow plans to develop a nuclear-cooperation program with Venezuela by the end of next year, said Sergei Kiriyenko, head of state corporation Rosatom.

"We are ready to teach students in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering," he said through an interpreter. He said the help would include "research and development" and "looking for uranium in the territory of Venezuela."

The two countries, seeking to develop their own banking joint venture, are looking at "three or four" acquisition targets in the industry, VTB Bank vice president Vasily Titov said.

The joint venture will be based in Moscow and will probably open with capital of $500 million, Titov said at a ceremony in Caracas late Wednesday attended by Medvedev and Chavez.

The two countries, which are planning to reach an agreement on creating the bank within two weeks, are starting the bank to finance projects without having to seek government approval for spending. They are also seeking to avoid using multilateral lenders like the International Monetary Fund, which Chavez has criticized for imposing loan conditions that he calls a violation of sovereignty.

Chavez, a longtime critic of the United States, praised Russia's "resurgence" and called for an end to U.S. global economic hegemony during a ceremony at the presidential palace in Caracas.

Venezuela, the fourth-biggest supplier of foreign crude oil to the United States, increasingly relies on investment from countries like Russia, China and Iran to boost oil output.

"Russia is back on its feet and playing an important role," Chavez said. "I'm committed to continue to work together like this without letting up."

Medvedev said Russia is ready to "think about participating" in the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, likely as an associate member. Chavez launched the socialist trade bloc, named after South American independence hero Simon Bolivar, as an alternative to U.S.-backed free-trade pacts.

Medvedev arrived in Venezuela after visiting Peru and Brazil as part of a Latin America tour. He was to fly to Cuba on Thursday, winding up a weeklong visit to promote economic and political ties in the region.

"The world is becoming multipolar," Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tuesday at the event in Caracas. "Latin America is also one of the poles of strength."

"Russia is back in Latin America, Russia is back in Africa and Russia is back in Asia," Margelov said. "We are ready to work in markets where we can be competitive."

Gazprom and four Russian oil companies will create a joint venture with Petroleos de Venezuela to pump and refine oil from the country's Orinoco Belt, Gazprom deputy CEO Alexander Medvedev said Tuesday in Caracas.

The companies will jointly produce oil from the Carabobo area, site of the biggest reserves in the Orinoco. The venture will also build a facility to refine tar-like crude into lighter, more valuable oil for export, Medvedev said.

Other companies involved in the venture include Rosneft, TNK-BP, LUKoil and Surgutneftegaz.

Chavez has been cozying up to Russia over the past few years, buying more than $4.4 billion in weapons and promising access to Venezuelan oil fields for Russian companies.

Venezuela's Russian arms purchases include 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 50 military helicopters and 24 Su-30 jet fighters, according to a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report.

Chavez visited Russia in September and secured a $1 billion credit line to buy more Russian weapons.

Venezuela is Russia's third-largest trade partner in Latin America. Trade more than doubled last year to $1.2 billion on arms sales.

Beyond energy and arms, the countries have also agreed to expand industrial and financial agreements.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin visited Caracas on Nov. 6, signing agreements to establish direct airline service between two countries, build cars in Venezuela and form a $4 billion binational bank.

United Company RusAl has Russian government support in its attempt to build an aluminum mill in Venezuela. AvtoVAZ is in talks with the Venezuelan government to start building an assembly plant in the country next year.

Bloomberg, AP