Putin says Latin America ties to be a top priority
At home, hosts Venezuela leader
NOVO-OGARYOVO, Russia - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed yesterday to make relations with Latin America a top foreign policy priority, a pledge backed by the first Russian naval deployment to the Caribbean since the Cold War.
Putin greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on his second trip to Russia in just over two months, with offers to discuss further arms sales to Venezuela and possibly helping it to develop nuclear energy.
Chavez's visit takes place as a Russian naval squadron sails to Venezuela in a pointed response to what the Kremlin has cast as threatening US encroachment near its own borders.
Both men suggested their countries are working to decrease US global influence.
"Latin America is becoming a noticeable link in the chain of the multipolar world that is forming," Putin said at his residence at the start of his talks with Chavez. "We will pay more and more attention to this vector of our economic and foreign policy."
Putin did not mention any specifics of potential military cooperation in his opening remarks, but Russian news reports said that Venezuela could buy Russian air defense missiles and more Sukhoi fighter jets.
Earlier yesterday, a Kremlin official said on condition of anonymity that Russia would grant Venezuela a $1 billion credit for the purchase of Russian weaponry to help revamp its military.
Russia has signed contracts worth more than $4.4 billion with Venezuela since 2005 to supply arms including fighter jets, helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
Putin did not specify what kind of cooperation Russia could offer Venezuela in the nuclear field, but Russia is aggressively promoting itself as a builder of nuclear power plants and a supplier of fuel.
Chavez, who addressed Putin as "my dear friend Vladimir," said stronger ties with Russia would help build a multipolar world - a term Russia and Venezuela use to describe their shared opposition to the perceived US global domination.