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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ecuador Visit Brings Deals, No Recognition

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa on Thursday made his first visit to Moscow, where he signed a series of deals while admiring the Kremlin palace but kept mum on a widely anticipated recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Correa’s visit to the Kremlin was the first in the history of diplomatic relations between Ecuador and Russia and yielded a strategic partnership agreement that covers politics, trade, culture, tourism, sports, science, technology and the environment.

“It’s so beautiful here that I don’t want to work — only sit and admire what I’m seeing!” Correa exclaimed in the Grand Kremlin Palace, where the talks took place, Interfax reported.

The two leaders also oversaw the signing of general partnership agreements in nuclear energy, as well as memorandums of cooperation in energy and telecommunications.

In his recent bid for foreign aid, Correa started out playing hardball.

Earlier this week in London, Correa proposed that European countries give his country money in exchange for not extracting some 850 million barrels of oil, or 20 percent of the country’s reserves. The oil is located under the Yasuni rainforest, an area of the Amazon in eastern Ecuador known for its biodiversity, and concerns have been raised that drilling could seriously damage the ecosystem.

Correa took a different energy policy route in Russia, instead signing a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s Energy Ministry.

“We want to repair roads and develop electrical infrastructure. We want to reconstruct our oil refineries and continue developing our oil and gas reserves,” Correa said at a joint news conference with President Dmitry Medvedev. “In all of these projects we can expect enormous help from Russia, made possible by its technological and financial capabilities.”

Medvedev said he had hoped to “develop full-fledged, full-format relations with the region’s countries” and that “Ecuador is one of our strategic partners on the Latin American continent.”

Russia has been intensely courting Latin American countries, and the leaders of Argentina, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba have all visited Moscow this year to renew bilateral contacts.

Russian firms, especially state-owned ones, have scored lucrative contracts in fields including electricity and oil and gas, and Moscow has been able to extract one of its key foreign policy objectives from Nicaragua and Venezuela: the recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent countries.

Vladimir Mikhailov, an expert on Latin American countries at the Russian Academy of Sciences, called today’s visit “very positive” despite the unrealized recognition of the two republics.

In contrast to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Correa is “more technocratic, more professional and practical rather than ideologically oriented,” Mikhailov said.

Russia also signed a deal to deliver two Mi-171E helicopters, worth a combined $22 million, to the Ecuadorian military. “This is not a lot, but it’s only the beginning of our interaction in this sphere. … There is potential,” Medvedev said.

There may be potential for at least four more helicopters.

Ecuador suspended the use of its helicopter fleet, consisting of six India-built aircraft, after one of them crashed at a military parade in Quito on Tuesday. On the same day, Correa told Reuters in London that he expected to sign a deal for two Russian helicopters on his Moscow visit.

In other business deals reached Thursday, Russia’s Inter RAO signed a cooperation agreement with Vneshekonombank’s subsidiary Roseximbank and the Ecuadorian energy company Hidrotoapi. Currently, the only specific project under discussion is a complex of two hydroelectric plants on the rivers Toachi and Pilaton, with a combined capacity of 246 megawatts.

Inter RAO, which is controlled by Rosatom and already has energy projects in Cuba, will participate in the construction of the plant, while Roseximbank will finance the project, according to a joint press release issued Thursday.

Hidrotoapi’s previous partner on the Toachi-Pilaton project, Brazilian firm Odebrecht, canceled its contract in January after the $336 million project was 60 percent finished, Ecuadorian media reported at the time. Correa expelled the company because of alleged faulty construction.

The trade volume between Russia and Ecuador was $1 billion in 2008, Medvedev said. About $594 million of that is comprised of Ecuadorian banana imports, according to Fruit News, a web site that tracks the fruit market in Russia. Bananas make up over 70 percent of all Ecuadorian trade with Russia, while flowers make up 23 percent and coffee 4.5 percent.

Correa was to meet with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill on Friday, when he will be given a tour of the Christ the Savior Cathedral and then have a private conversation with the patriarch.

Correa later met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the two discussed prospects for further cooperation as well as a mutual old friend.

“We’ve heard a lot about you — our common friend Hugo Chavez has said much about you, and we have been carefully following your activities in domestic and foreign policy,” Putin said, according to comments posted on the government web site.

“We’ve been very happy to see your policies, which President Medvedev is continuing, of moving closer to Latin America,” Correa said, also thanking Putin for the Soviet Union’s sacrifices in defeating Nazism.