MOSCOW – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez blew through Russia on Tuesday, cutting business deals, griping about the United States and pumping up the friendship between the two oil-rich nations.
He pressed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to pay him a visit in Venezuela. He subtly ribbed President Dmitry Medvedev, who has been widely portrayed as Putin’s handpicked puppet. And he announced that his country would buy Russian weapons “to guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela, which is being threatened by the United States.”
The tone of the visit was the latest stroke of neo-Cold War posturing in Moscow, which has taken on an increasingly anti-American tone as oil revenues pile up in the state coffers.
Earlier this week, a Russian newspaper published anonymous threats from a “highly placed source” to use Cuba as a refueling base for nuclear-capable bombers. The report, which drew consternation in Washington, was dismissed by the Russian Defense Ministry as false.
During his visit, Chavez spoke admiringly of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, stirring inevitable memories of bygone Cold War alliances.
“Fidel asked me to greet you,” the Venezuelan president told Medvedev.
The visit played out against a backdrop of global tension over high oil prices, inflation and a weakened dollar. But some analysts dismissed the back-slapping and dealing between the rulers as a largely empty display.
“We and Hugo Chavez show America the finger. It’s an opportunity for a lot of anti-American rhetoric,” independent Russian defense analyst Pavel Felgengauer said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Still, both countries are riding high on record-busting oil prices. And Tuesday, the two presidents pledged to form a strategic energy alliance.
“Our relations have reached a totally new level,” Medvedev said after he and Chavez watched Russia’s oil and gas companies sign a host of deals with their Venezuelan counterparts. The deals clear the way for Russian companies to develop Venezuelan fields, beginning with Russian giant Gazprom drilling in western Venezuela while Lukoil drills in the Orinoco valley.