Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 95

In addition to the declaration, the Russian and Venezuelan delegations signed four other agreements, including one on military-technical cooperation and another on joint efforts to combat illegal drug trafficking. Reports said that additional agreements which the two sides had expected to sign had in fact not been finalized by the time of Chavez’s arrival in Moscow. They included an important agreement by which Venezuela was to receive oil and gas technology from Russia in exchange for Moscow being given the opportunity to extract petroleum off Venezuela’s Caribbean coast (AP, May 14-15). That agreement would give flesh to a commitment voiced by Putin and Chavez to increase trade between the two countries in the area of energy development.

One area in which less appeared to happen than might have been expected was military-technical cooperation. During a visit to Moscow last month by Venezuelan Defense Minister Jose Vicente Rangel reports had circulated in the Russian press suggesting that a major Russian arms sale to Caracas might be on the agenda during Chavez’s visit. This was apparently not the case, though reports did leave some confusion as to the shape that cooperation in this area is taking between the two countries. Rangel, for example, was not included on the delegation that accompanied Chavez to Russia, and the military cooperation agreement that was approved on Monday was signed instead by Foreign Minister Luis Alfonso Davila. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who signed on behalf of the Russian government, said that the accord was the first of its kind between the two states. He also described it as a framework agreement which dealt, in his words, with “trade in defensive weapons.” Chavez himself, however, told reporters in Moscow that he had not come to Russia “to discuss arms purchases,” and downplayed the importance of the military cooperation agreement. It is “similar to the documents Venezuela has signed with other countries” such as France or Switzerland, Chavez said. It will nevertheless be a surprise if the topic of Russian arms sales to Venezuela is not raised again. That is in part because Russian arms officials have repeatedly made clear their hopes of boosting arms sales to Latin America, and because arms dealings have become an ever more important part of Russia’s diplomatic dealings more generally.

Ties between Russia and Venezuela are likely also to be strengthened over the short-term by oil politics, a topic that was also high on Putin’s and Chavez’s discussion agenda. Venezuela currently leads OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), and Chavez went out his way while in Moscow to thank the Kremlin for pledging to help support higher oil prices. Indeed, reports say that Russia, as a major oil exporter, would like to strengthen its ties with OPEC, and Putin reportedly thanked Chavez for inviting him to attend the next OPEC summit in Caracas (Vremya MN, April 18; Reuters, May 11; Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 12; AP, AFP, May 14-15; Kommersant, Russian agencies, May 14-15; Los Angeles Times, May 15).

Despite their common views on a host of international issues, however, it is possible that this week’s joint Russian-Venezuelan declaration and the effusive words of praise used by the two leaders exaggerated the potential for cooperation between Moscow and Caracas on the international stage. Moscow does seem likely to embrace recent moves by Caracas to improve ties with the so-called rogue states, and could undoubtedly also find Venezuela a useful partner in terms of raising Russia’s profile in Latin America and among the OPEC nations. But Chavez’s extreme brand of anti-Americanism, which has earned him growing criticism at home, would seem at this point to far exceed the more balanced and pragmatic view the Putin government has taken toward Washington over the past several months.