In another sign of strengthened ties between Venezuela and Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Hugo Chávez on Friday. Together they toured the Kruzenshtern, a Russian ship docked at the Venezuelan port city of La Guiara, and spent time in Miraflores, the equivalent of Venezuela’s White House. While in Caracas the leaders signed agreements to open up new avenues of exploration for Russian oil companies like Gazprom and Lukoil, in cooperation with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). This includes a payment of $600 million as a portion of the signing fee, with more to follow.
Beyond agreements related to oil, the relationship benefits both countries. It provides Chávez with a strong ally to counter influence by the United States in the region. If the US refuses to sell needed technology or spare parts for Venezuela’s military, then it can instead turn to Russia. In addition, Chávez continues his efforts to court cooperation and support for nuclear development from Russia (and Iran), something that surely raises eyebrows in Washington. However, any development of nuclear power would take years to implement and have no impact on the country’s current power shortages.
At the same time, Putin’s association with Chávez enables him to expand Russia’s influence in the Western Hemisphere. This has been years in the making. In December 2008 a joint military exercise between his country’s navy and that of Venezuela served as the first deployment of Russian ships in the Caribbean since the end of the Cold War.
Note: Although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Chávez in 2008, this is Putin’s first trip to Venezuela.