(Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Thursday recognized the pro-Russian rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.
The following are facts about relations between Venezuela and Russia. It is Chavez’s 8th visit to Russia.
Chavez’s decision to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia brings the Kremlin rare support for its campaign to gain international acceptance for the two regions, which rely on Moscow for their defense and budgets.
Georgia condemned the move as an unfriendly act by Venezuela and said Moscow had used money and weapons to get Chavez to recognize the regions.
Hours after Chavez recognized the two regions as independent countries, Medvedev said Russia would supply Venezuela with all the arms it asked for, including tanks.
Chavez, a former soldier who led an abortive 1990s coup before later winning an election, wants to rearm the Venezuelan army with Russian missiles, tanks and even diesel submarines.
The arms sales have been watched with concern in Colombia after rising tensions between the two Andean neighbors.
Venezuela and Colombia came close to war last year and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has accused Chavez of supporting FARC Marxist rebels fighting Bogota.
At least 12 arms contracts worth $4.4 billion had been signed between Russia and Venezuela in the past two years, according to Russian sources.
Russian media said a deal on supplying Venezuela with 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks for about $500 million would be signed during the current visit.
Arms sales to Caracas have included 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifles.
Russia is the world’s second biggest oil exporter and the biggest gas producer. Venezuela, an OPEC member, has the biggest oil reserves in Latin America and 7.9 percent of the world’s total proven reserves, according to the BP Statistical Review of world energy.
Venezuela’s Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, who skipped an OPEC meeting on Wednesday to accompany Chavez to Moscow, said the organization should keep production steady.
Chavez on Monday urged Turkmenistan, holder of the world’s fourth-largest gas reserves, to join efforts to create a global grouping of gas exporters that is opposed by Western consumers.
The grouping of 11 natural gas exporting countries, an extension of an informal body involving Russia, Iran and Qatar, has aroused concern in the United States and the European Union, who worry such an organization could manipulate supply.
Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian companies are expected to sign a deal soon to develop a major block at the Orinoco oil belt, which Venezuela says has the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world.
Russia says PDVSA and the Russian consortium will need to jointly invest $30 billion in the Junin 6 oil field, which has an estimated production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day.
“An agreement between the Russian oil consortium and PDVSA will be signed in the near future,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday.
Reserves in the Junin 6 oil block are estimated at 53 billion barrels, potentially making it the biggest Russian oil exploration project abroad, though Orinoco crude is extra heavy and has to be processed before it can be refined.
The Russian consortium includes Rosneft, Gazprom, Lukoil, TNK-BP and Surgutneftegaz.
Russian companies also plan to bid for heavy crude blocks in the Carobobo project, which aims to build three upgraders to turn the Orinoco belt’s tar-like crude into oil for exports.
Gazprombank will finance the development of minerals and other raw materials in Venezuela with a $4 billion loan.
Venezuela and the Russian-Canadian miner Ruso announced earlier this year the development of large gold reserves valued at up to $30 billion at the Las Cristinas and Brisas mines.
Trade between Russia and Venezuela totaled $957.8 million in 2008, down 15 percent on 2007, when trade reached a record $1.13 billion, according to Russia’s Economy Ministry.
Trade during the first six months of this year totaled just $105.2 million.
Russian exports -- mostly aircraft -- made up the lion’s share of trade last year, totaling $957.4 million. Imports from Venezuela totaled just $400,000 in 2008.
Russia sent two long-range Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela in September 2008 on what it said was a training mission.
Chavez in March said he would allow Russian planes to use one of his nation’s islands on long-range flights.
Russia in 2008 sent its nuclear-powered battle cruiser “Peter the Great,” a destroyer and other vessels to the Caribbean for joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.
Sources: Russian Economy Ministry, BP Statistical Review, Reuters
Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Angus MacSwan