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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – On April 2, fewer than two days after terrorists from Chechnya claimed the attacks that caused havoc in the Moscow metro, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was on a plane to Venezuela.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez didn’t waste any time making Putin feel right at home in his first visit to the Andean nation. The two leaders needed about 12 hours to close several deals, including one granting Russia access to Venezuela’s rich Junín 6 oil field, a nuclear energy cooperation agreement, the offer of help for a space exploration program and, perhaps most importantly, a US$5billion arms deal.
Bolivian president Evo Morales also met with Putin in Caracas, where he requested a “relaunch” in the countries’ relationship and the “return of Russian presence” to Latin America.
Morales also requested a US$100 million loan from Russia to buy helicopters for counter-narcotics operations and a new presidential jet, according to Russian news agency RIA Novosti.
Across the continent, voices have expressed concern about the deals between Russia and Venezuela.
Luis Augusto Castro Quiroga, a Colombian archbishop, said that a possible nuclear plant in Venezuela would bring “grave consequences, not only for Colombia but for other countries.”
Freddy Valera of the opposition “Acción Democrática” party denounced Putin’s visit as “an opportunity for him to sell junk to Venezuela.”
Two Russian-made M-17 and MI-26 helicopters, as well as several Sukhoi war planes, have crashed since June 2008 in Venezuela, which purchased the aircrafts in 2005.
“There is no analysis that justifies the purchase of tanks, Kalashnikovs and Sukhoi,” Valera said, as quoted by the daily newspaper El Correo del Caroní.
“We need a president who can put his feet on the ground,” Valera said, referring to Chavez’s plans of coordinating an expansion of the nation’s space program with Russia.