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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chavez Greeted With a Shot of Vodka

ReutersVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez being greeted with bread upon his arrival at the airport in Volgograd on Tuesday.
Oil, tractors, wreath-laying and vodka were on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's itinerary Tuesday as he kicked off his three-day trip to Russia with a visit to Volgograd.

Local dignitaries, including Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta, met Chavez at the airport, and Cossacks warmly greeted him with bread, salt and vodka.

NTV television showed Chavez drinking a shot of vodka from a glass balanced on a saber. On Chavez's previous trip to Volgograd in 2001, he was made an honorary Cossack.

To the sound of an accordion, Chavez grasped the saber at both ends and carefully emptied the glass without spilling a drop, then clapped his hands. Several women in Cossack costume danced nearby while men sang.

"It was a very warm meeting," said a spokeswoman for the Volgograd region administration.

Arriving mid-afternoon from Belarus, Chavez's previous stopover on a tour of several countries aimed at boosting Venezuela's case for a seat on the United Nations Security Council, he met Maksyuta and LUKoil president Vagit Alekperov, said the spokeswoman, Yelena Shitova. LUKoil and Gazprom already have a foothold in Venezuela, having struck deals with state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela to prospect for oil and gas in the country.

Chavez was also scheduled to meet with Dmitry Pumyansky, chairman of pipe manufacturer TMK.

Shitova said Chavez would lay a wreath at Mamayev Kurgan, the landmark monument to the battle of Stalingrad, and visit the city's tractor factory, which also produces tanks and other military equipment.

This is Chavez's fourth visit to Russia since becoming president, and Maksyuta has visited Venezuela as Chavez's guest.

In an interview ahead of Chavez's arrival, Maksyuta said Russian oil companies were interested in developing fields in Venezuela as it would be cheaper to send oil from there to the United States.

Maksyuta said he hoped to discuss bringing Venezuelan agricultural produce to the city in return for exporting tractors to Venezuela.

Maksyuta also said Venezuelan students were welcome to come study in the city.

In 2001, the Volgograd region and Venezuela's Bolivar State signed a cooperation agreement, and the two regions are hoping to revitalize that partnership, Shitova and a Venezuelan diplomat said.

On Wednesday, Chavez, a former paratrooper, will travel to Izhevsk, meet with the city's most famous son, AK-47 designer Mikhail Kalashnikov, and watch a demonstration of manufacturer Izhmash's latest assault rifles, Interfax reported Tuesday. Chavez is also expected to meet with Udmurtia President Alexander Volkov.

Chavez is to arrive in Moscow on Wednesday and sign a $1 billion defense deal for 30 Su-30 fighter jets and 30 helicopters.

He is expected to meet with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

A Venezuelan diplomat visiting Moscow on Tuesday sought to downplay the arms purchase, saying instead that the trip was also intended to boost cooperation with Russia in areas as diverse as "energy, electricity, science and technology," as well as aviation and tourism.

"We don't want to be seen as just an arms buyer," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

In an interview in Tuesday's Izvestia, the head of the Venezuelan Air Force, Brigadier General Victor Sanches Croez, praised state arms trader Rosoboronexport, calling it a "locomotive of sorts that will lead to cooperation in energy, tourism and other sectors, which have never figured in our relations before."

Earlier this week, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said priority would be given to cooperation with Venezuela in fuel and energy, Itar-Tass reported.