Putin congratulates Maduro in oil-ally Venezuela

MOSCOW Mon Apr 15, 2013 2:34pm EDT

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks to ExxonMobil and Rosneft officials in the Pacific island of Sakhalin via a video link, as Putin visits Ulan-Ude in the Republic of Buryatia April 11, 2013 in this picture provided by RIA Novosti. REUTERS/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

Russia's President Vladimir Putin speaks to ExxonMobil and Rosneft officials in the Pacific island of Sakhalin via a video link, as Putin visits Ulan-Ude in the Republic of Buryatia April 11, 2013 in this picture provided by RIA Novosti.

Credit: Reuters/Aleksey Nikolskyi/RIA Novosti/Pool

MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin congratulated Nicolas Maduro by telephone on Monday on winning the presidential election in Venezuela, where Russia has significant oil investments, and Moscow urged all parties to accept "the will of the voters".

Ties between Moscow and Caracas flourished under Hugo Chavez, the socialist leader who died last month of cancer. Maduro was Chavez's chosen successor and Russia was hoping for continuity to protect its energy and arms deals there.

In a phone call that followed a congratulatory message from Putin, he and Maduro "affirmed their readiness for further progressive development of bilateral cooperation in the spirit of strategic partnership", the Kremlin said.

Maduro said he would be willing for Sunday's election result to be audited after officials said he took 50.7 percent of votes, compared to 49.1 percent for Henrique Capriles.

Capriles said he did not accept the result and demanded a recount. The U.S. White House said an audit was necessary.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said that foreigners present in Venezuela in connection with the election, including Russian electoral officials, reported that it was conducted "without any serious violations of electoral law".

"We call upon all political forces in friendly Venezuela to respect the will of the voters and show a balanced and responsible approach to the results of the voting," the ministry said in a statement.

Russia has invested billions of dollars in Venezuelan oil projects and has given Caracas loans to buy weapons.

Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who is the head of state-owned Rosneft, Russia's top crude oil producer, has been a regular visitor to discuss oil deals and arms sales.

Weeks before Chavez won re-election last October, Sechin donned a Chavez T-shirt to pose with workers. Sechin also headed Russia's delegation to Chavez's funeral last month.

Russia is on the lookout for new oil and gas projects globally, with the U.S. shale gas revolution putting pressure on its energy export earnings, and Venezuela received 5 percent of Russia's arms exports last year.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk and Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Michael Roddy)

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