Venezuela's partnership with Russia: An emblematic step

by Olivia Kroth

Sources: Aporrea, Blog Hugo Chávez, Correo del Orinoco, Patria Grande, Venezuelanalysis, Voice of Russia, Voltaire Network

Under President Chávez, Venezuela is enjoying good relations with Russia as one of its most important trade and military partners in Latin America. By strengthening Venezuelan-Russian ties, Hugo Chávez wants to help create a multi-polar world, "a world that permits the rights of peoples to liberty, self-determination and sovereignty".

Over the past years, while the Russian Federation has been led by Vladimir Putin either as Prime Minister or as President, the ties between Chávez and Putin have become stronger. Both leaders are ardent patriots, proud to serve their respective countries which they love with great intensity.

Both men share similar views on many topics, for example the role of the USA in global economics. Hugo Chávez agreed with Vladimir Putin's opinion that the USA is an "economic parasite" because of its "constant instability and high debts, living far beyond its means and transferring the burden of its problems to the entire world economy." 

On Venezuelan television (VTV), President Chávez repeated Vladimir Putin's words, demanding Venezuela to "free itself from the parasite."  Venezuela has the largest oil reserves, and is the fifth biggest oil exporter worldwide. In the twelve years of Hugo Chávez' government, Venezuela transferred its international funds from US banks to other banks in different parts of the world. Furthermore, Venezuela paid back all of its debts to US banks and ended its dependence on the IMF.

Venezuela is a strategic business partner for Russia in the exploitation of gas and crude oil. Since 2005, Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA and the Russian oil company Lukoil have been drilling oil in the Venezuelan Orinoco Oil Belt together. Another joint venture contract was signed in 2011 between Russia's Rosneft and PDVSA to exploit the oil reserves of the blocs Carabobo-2 North and East. Rosneft holds 40 percent, PDVSA owns the majority of 60 percent.

Since 2008, PDVSA has furthermore been drilling gas jointly with Russia's Gazprom in the Gulf of Venezuela. The Caribbean Gas Belt, which stretches along the coast of Venezuela, contains 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. President Chávez wants his country to produce its own gas with Russian help, thanks to the transfer of Russian technology and training. "It is a great advantage for Venezuela to count on Russia's presence and Gazprom in the Gulf," Hugo Chávez pointed out.

Another shared Venezuelan-Russian enterprise is the mining of gold in Venezuela's gold mines, Las Cristinas and Las Brisas. Both gold deposits were nationalized under the Chávez Government. The Russian firm Rusoro was granted partnership with Venezuelan state mining companies.

To finance these projects, a bi-national bank was created in 2009. Russia's Gazprombank and VTB control 51 percent, Venezuela's PDVSA and the National Treasury own 49 percent. The bi-national bank's headquarters are located in Moscow, with offices established in Caracas and Beijing. The bi-national bank aims to boost financial cooperation between Venezuela and Russia. According to President Chávez, this bank is a step on the way "to transform the financial architecture of the 21st century".

As Russia's President Vladimir Putin remarked, the commercial exchange between Russia and Venezuela saw "a tenfold increase in 2011."  Russia exports busses to Venezuela, while the Russian car company Lada is looking to open up factories in Venezuela. The Latin American partner sends agricultural products to Russia: cacao, flowers and plantains (bananas).

Ruso-Venezolana Orquídea S.A., a mixed Russian-Venezuelan enterprise for the export/import of Venezuelan orchids to Russia, is building a special cargo terminal in the airport of Caracas-Maiquetía (IAIM), in the state of Vargas. Ricardo Javier Sánchez, director of the enterprise, recently presented the construction project with special installations to keep the orchids beautiful and fresh while being packed and transported all the way to Russia, their final destination.

In addition, Venezuela's socialist agricultural Mission, Gran Misión AgroVenezuela, wants to export more homegrown tropical fruits to Russia: mangos, melons, pineapples. Coffee export shall also be boosted in the coming years.

At the beginning of June this year, a Russian delegation, presided by Denis Manturov, Russia's Minister of Industry and Commerce, visited Venezuela and inspected the site of Fuerte Tiuna in Caracas, where sixteen new apartment buildings were erected with Russian assistance. Each apartment measures between 60 and 70 square meters, comprising two or three rooms, bathroom and kitchen. Venezuela built 10.000 new homes with Russian materials and technology, 6.000 in Fuerte Tiuna, a barrio of the capital city, another 4.000 in Turmerito, a quarter of Turmero, in the state of Aragua.

Of course, Russian-Venezuelan arms deals are the main theme of western mainstream press reports, but in reality they are only one of many areas of cooperation. "We want peace," Hugo Chávez assures, "but in order to preserve the security and tranquility of our nation, it is necessary to strengthen our defense.. 

In view of the alleged ending for the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and the endangered socialist Syrian Arab Republic, his words acquire a special meaning. They might sound exaggerated in NATO ears, but are well understood in non-aligned countries.    

Professor Franz J. T. Lee, who teaches political science at the University of the Andes in Mérida/Venezuela, wrote in his essay The Gaddafi paradigm and our dim chance of surviving against global fascism:

"Among the grievous errors of the government of Libya are the following: if you are swimming in an ocean of oil and fresh water, you must know that no matter how you try to escape, in the end the Orwellian bloody NATO army boots will come for you. Hence prepare yourself for the coming struggle." (1)

President Hugo Chávez heard the message and is preparing himself for the coming struggle by stepping up the military training and equipment of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, mainly with Russian armament imports.

In another article Franz J. T. Lee asked, Could Venezuela see her future in the oily crystal ball in Libya?

"Nothing more than the fact of possessing the largest oil reserves of the earth, as is the case in Venezuela, can lead to belligerent invasions. Therefore, watch out, Venezuela!" (2)

President Chávez seems to foresee danger for himself in the oily crystal ball in Libya. He repeatedly expressed his fears of meeting the same fate as the Jamahiriya's Great Brother Leader Muammar Gaddafi. "We see that imperialism has dropped its mask, has put aside morals and found a pretext to bomb Libyan towns, killing Libyan civilians," Hugo Chávez stated in an interview, adding that the imperialists placed him in the same category as Gaddafi, depicting him as a "cruel dictator."

One of Venezuela's leading intellectuals, Luis Britto García, the author of more than 70 books, explained the situation of the Jamahiriya in a poetic way, interpreting Libyan proverbs in his essay, When you see Libya burning (Cuando veas arder Libia ):

"A Libyan proverb says, 'Watch out for the malignance of the one to whom you give favors.'  The first condition a country has to fulfill in order to be invaded is to possess crude oil and gas reserves. - 'When cattle dies, the knives are taken out' admonishes another Libyan proverb. The second condition for a country to be invaded is to exercise sovereignty over its natural resources." (3)

Indeed, the parallels to Venezuela are striking, only a blind person would be unable to see them. President Chávez certainly does not suffer from blindness and is taking precautions.

As early as September 2008, Russia sent Tupolev TU-160 bombers for training flights to Venezuela. In November 2008, both countries held joint naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea. The Russian flotilla, including the nuclear-powered warship "Peter the Great," was dispatched from Russia's arctic base in Severomorsk.

The Russian Federation sells various kinds of weapons and military equipment to Venezuela, including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, attack helicopters, combat aircraft, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled howitzers, self-propelled mortars, assault rifles, sniper rifles, ammunition.

According to The Voice of Russia, the latest Russian armament shipment reached Puerto Cabello, Venezuela's overseas port, in May this year, carrying tanks of the types BTR-80A and BMP-3M, multiple rocket launchers "Smerch" and anti-aircraft missiles S-300V. The Venezuelan Government also received various kinds of ammunition and training simulators.

A Russian state official, Sergei Goreslavski, confirmed that the Russian Federation is constructing a maintenance center for military equipment in Venezuela, specialized on repairing helicopters of the types Mi-17B5, Mi-26T2 and Mi-35M2.

Meanwhile, Venezuela is not merely an importer any more, but has started producing its own armament and military equipment with Russian help. The country produces two types of "Catatumbo" rifles with Russian design.

The first type is modeled after the famous Russian assault rifle Kalashnikov AK-103, designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in 1994 and manufactured by Izmash in Russia. The Venezuelan Army uses the standard issue of this weapon which is now manufactured in the state of Maracuy. The aim is to produce 50.000 units per year. The Venezuelan assault rifle has a caliber of 7.62x39 mm, the same as AK-103. It has a range of 400 meters and can be used with or without telescope, General Morales of the Venezuelan Armed Forces informed.

The second type is modeled after the Russian Dragunov rifle, designed by Yevgeny Dragunov between 1958 and 1963, manufactured by Izmash in Russia as well. The "Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova" (SVD) is a semi-automatic sniper rifle, designed as a squad support weapon. The Venezuelan equivalent has a caliber of 7.62x51 mm, an effective range of 800 meters and a maximum range of 1300 meters with telescope.  

The series of rifles, made in Venezuela, is named "Catatumbo," after a river that flows into Lake Maracaibo in the state of Zulia. "Catatumbo" lightning occurs over the marshlands at the Maracaibo mouth of the Catatumbo River during storms at night. The very strong light can be seen up to 400 kilometers away and has been used for ship navigation. It was therefore also called the "Maracaibo Beacon." The beacon of the Venezuelan Armed Forces is its series of "Catatumbo" rifles.

The newest feat which President Chávez proudly presented a few days ago is Venezuela's fist unarmed drone, built with joint Russian - Iranian - Chinese technology and assistance. "It is one of three aircraft that we have made, and we will continue to manufacture them," he announced. The drone has a range of 100 kilometers, can reach an altitude of 3000 meters and stay aloft for up to 90 minutes. It transmits real-time video and images. The 3x4 meter drone is part of Venezuela's defense system, aimed at the monitoring of dams, pipelines and other infrastructure. 

Venezuela has begun to sell weapons and military vehicles to other Latin American countries within the alliances of ALBA and UNASUR. Julio Morales Prieto, director of Cavim (Companía Anónima Venezolana de Industrias Militares), where the Venezuelan drone is built, says that other Latin American states want to buy the drone.

During a meeting on the 9th of June, when the Russian delegation visited the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, President Chávez said that "Venezuela has the right to defend itself. We have the constitutional obligation to keep our Armed Forces well equipped, well trained and in high spirits morally for national defense." On Venezuelan TV, the President remarked that the Venezuelan-Russian meeting was a "signal of both governments' political will to continue strengthening bilateral relations, and with these, to contribute to a balanced world."

In the cultural area, Russian-Venezuelan cooperation has been intensified as well. The Russian language is taught in national education centers of Venezuela, supervised by the Agency of Cooperation with Russia. These centers organize activities to introduce Russian culture and history in Venezuela, for example, with exhibitions, seminars and workshops. Thus, on the 15th of April 2012, a Russian Music Festival was inaugurated in the Art Center Daniel Suárez of Caracas.

Tatiana Rusakova, a Russian specialist in Venezuela, pointed out that interest in Russian culture is growing. "This is due to the fact that Russian-Venezuelan ties have been intensified during the last ten years. In 2011, a group of Venezuelan students visited a number of Russian cities with the program Simón Bolívar 2007-2013."

Tatiana Rusakova also emphasized that more and more Venezuelans are enrolling in Russian language courses. The Central University of Venezuela in Caracas trains future teachers of the Russian language. The Government of the Russian Federation offers scholarships to Venezuelan students who are interested in studying at Russian universities.

Last, but not least, Venezuela is promoting tourism in Russia. In March 2012, the Bolivarian Government participated in Moscow's International Tourism Fair (MITT). A group of the Venezuelan Ministry of Tourism (Mintur) presented touristic points of interest in Venezuela to Russian travel agencies. The ten people of the delegation attended more than 190 meetings with international travel agents from Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia, handing out brochures and promotional videos of Venezuela. They also met with officials of tourist magazines: TTG, Voyage, Travel Magazine, News Outdoor, and the internet portal

President Chávez promotes cooperation with Russia in other Latin American countries, just like the Russian Federation greeted the recent founding of CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), launched in Caracas, in December 2011. A spokesman of the Russian Foreign Ministry lauded "this emblematic step that our Latin American partners have made".

Russia supports the desire of Latin American countries for unity and the consolidation of their identity, of which Hugo Chávez is the first and foremost representative.

Franz J. T. Lee, The Gaddafi paradigm and our dim chance of surviving against global fascism. May 2011.

Franz J. T. Lee, Could Venezuela see her future in the oily crystal ball in Libya? February 2011.

Louis Britto García, Cuando veas arder Libia. March 2011.

Prepared for publication  by:

Lisa Karpova



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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey