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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chavez Lashes Out, Putin is Low Key

APPresident Hugo Chavez and Mayor Yury Luzhkov sharing a joke as they watch dancers perform at the opening of a Venezuelan cultural center Thursday.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez kicked off a three-day visit Thursday with praise for President Vladimir Putin's criticism of Washington and a pledge to help save the world from "U.S. hegemony."

Although Chavez met personally with Putin on Thursday evening, the Kremlin seemed keen to keep his visit relatively low key ahead of Putin's scheduled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, on Sunday and Monday.

The meeting with Putin at the presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo was held behind closed doors, and Putin said talk had focused on economic and military cooperation. Chavez responded simply, "Thank you, president. Thank you brother," Interfax reported.

Analysts said, however, that there was little likelihood any arms deals would be signed during the visit.

Chavez was more energetic, while speaking at the opening ceremonies for a Latin American cultural center at the Library of Foreign Literature, attacking the Bush administration and praising Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union.

"If the world doesn't change, mankind will disappear," Chavez said in a long, passionate address at the unveiling of the center, which is named after South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar, whom he considers a role model. He even renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

In his speech, Chavez said he wanted to intensify energy cooperation with Russia, while criticizing the United States and U.S. oil companies for having turned Venezuela into a "colony of the United States." He also defended Iran's nuclear energy program and said his country might consider starting one of its own in the future.

If Putin was concerned about getting too close to Chavez during the visit, Mayor Yury Luzhkov suffered from no such inhibitions. Speaking ahead of Chavez at the ceremony, Luzhkov lashed out at what he called today's "unipolar world," as well as criticizing Hollywood. Perhaps charged up by his confirmation for a fifth term on Wednesday, Luzhkov defended Russia's "right to live its own life."

"The Almighty ordained us to live as equals on Earth," he said, adding that Hollywood was imposing on the world "a culture that does not always reflect mankind's deepest needs."

Luzhkov also criticized U.S. academic Francis Fukuyama's work "The End of History," a theme Chavez expanded upon.

"No, this is not the end of history," Chavez said. "It is the opposite: This is a return to history."

"He who has eyes to see, let him see," Chavez said in a marathon speech that invoked everything from the Bible to Lenin and Marx. U.S. intellectual Noam Chomsky's "Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance" was also mentioned.

Chavez, who was re-elected in December on pledges of more radical reforms, also defended the Venezuelan state's assumption of control of operations in his country's Orinoco river belt oil producing region. After PDVSA, Venezuela's state-owned oil company, took control of multibillion-dollar projects owned by ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil, the two oil companies refused to sign a new agreement.

"If they want to leave, the door is open," Chavez said Thursday.

At the same time, he said he was keen to intensify energy cooperation with Russia and praised LUKoil, which is beginning work on projects in the Orinoco belt, for agreeing to his terms. LUKoil CEO Vagit Alekperov was also scheduled to meet with Chavez on Thursday, Interfax reported.

"Everybody understands why they are meeting," Alekperov's deputy Leonid Fedun said. "Venezuela has set out tough conditions, but we are continuing with our dialogue."

Chavez was also expected to discuss a possible arms deal that would see Venezuela purchase nine submarines, as well as air defense systems, a report in Kommersant said Thursday. Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, estimated the deal to be worth about $3 billion, but cited sources who said the deals would not be signed during this visit. State arms exporter Rosoboronexport declined comment Thursday, and inexplicably referred calls back to Makiyenko's center.

Putin was praised by Chavez in an apparent reference to the Russian president's February speech in Munich criticizing U.S. unilateralism.

"Believe me, we raised glasses, we toasted, when Putin spoke of the United States as a dictator," Chavez told the audience.

He started his speech reading from a prepared text, but soon let go to recite a litany of facts from the life of Francisco de Miranda, a Venezuelan revolutionary and Bolivar's forerunner, to lament the fall of the Soviet Union and to say Russia should return to the ideas of Lenin.

Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that despite Kremlin attempts to keep things low key, the visit was bound to cast a shadow on Putin's upcoming talks with Bush.

"Compared with [Chavez], Putin looks like and is a very respectable leader," she said. "But there is no question that Russia is gathering around it a group of countries that stand tough against the United States."

Some in attendance for Chavez's speech were more positive, with Federal Culture and Cinematography head Mikhail Shvydkoi saying democratic values were important for both North and Latin America. Shvydkoi said he remembered shouting the Cuban revolutionary slogan, "Cuba Si. Yankee No," as a boy. Today, he said, only the words of "Cuba Si" and "Venezuela Si" were appropriate.

Chavez and the audience, consisting primarily of diplomats, Venezuelan military personnel, several Russian deputies and other officials, were treated to performances by the Russian folk ensembles and dancers from Venezuela. As girls in orange dresses and boys in white shirts and pants began their performance, Chavez tapped along to the rhythm with his hand, and Shvydkoi and Luzhkov tried to follow suit. They soon gave up.

Predictably, the event attracted a range of anti-U.S. lawmakers, including Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Viktor Anpilov, the head of the Working Russia party.

One Working Russia member, teacher Nadezhda Dias, brought red roses for Chavez, saying she was ready to "cover him with kisses for his fight" against the United States.