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Russia to build nuclear plant in Venezuela

President Hugo Chavez, on his ninth visit to Russia in eight years, says he wants to reduce dependence on oil and gas. No details on cost or time are disclosed.

October 16, 2010|By Sergei L. Loiko, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Moscow — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday announced a deal calling for Russia to build the Latin American country's first nuclear power plant with both leaders emphasizing the plan involves only peaceful energy uses.

Medvedev and Chavez, who was on his ninth visit to Russia in eight years, oversaw the signing of an agreement for the nuclear power plant as well as for Russia to invest $1.6 billion in Venezuela's oil industry and smaller deals in areas such as natural gas and auto exports.

"I don't know who will shudder now," Medvedev said at the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. "President [Chavez] said that there will be states that will have different emotions but I would like to specifically note that our intentions are absolutely pure and open."

Chavez, a socialist leader and staunch critic of U.S. foreign policies, praised the agreements and extended special thanks to former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was not present, and Medvedev, referring to them as "sons of the Soviet Union." Venezuela wants to reduce its reliance on gas and oil energy, Chavez said.

"We are not afraid to come to Moscow and come to the Kremlin and sign an agreement to build a nuclear power plant for peaceful purposes," he said.

Medvedev didn't specify how much the nuclear project would cost or when it would be completed, saying officials first "need to conduct all necessary preliminary research, to evaluate the structure and possibilities."

Venezuela's leader presented a red bag containing chocolates, banana jam and cacao powder to Medvedev, who accepted it with a smile. The two countries have made previous deals, including for weapons. "In the sphere of military-technical cooperation we are not slowing down, we are continuing our work," said Medvedev although no new weapons deals were signed Friday.

During their comments, Medvedev made what observers considered a veiled reference to the United States.

"Both Russia and Venezuela come out for forming a modern and fair world order, such a world order in which our future doesn't depend on the will and desire of some other country, on its prosperity and mood," Medvedev said.

Russian Deputy Premier Igor Sechin told reporters after the briefing that the $1.6 billion Russian stake in Venezuela's oil industry was not a bad deal.

Sechin, however, complained that the attempts by Gazprom, a Russian natural gas production giant, to drill for gas in the shelf off Venezuela Bay had run into big problems this year because of bedrock and that about $300 million had been wasted.

"We need to ask for other locations to drill," Sechin said.

Many in Venezuela are dissatisfied with Chavez and blame him for rising crime, food shortages, frequent power outages and interruption of water services.

Some experts in Moscow were skeptical about how beneficial the Russia-Venezuela relationship might be.

"The nuclear power plant agreement is nothing but a declaration of intentions and if in 10 years time the project may be lifted off the ground the questions will arise how Venezuela will pay for it," said Alexander Golts, a political and defense commentator with the popular on-line publication Yezhednevny Zhurnal. "Chavez has no money and he won't be able to pay even if he sells all his stocks of banana jam."

Andrei Piontkovsky, a senior fellow with the Russian Academy of Sciences System Analysis Institute, said the relationship between Russia and Venezuela could "realistically have no economic content whatsoever" and seemed based more on the spiritual closeness of its leaders.

"In terms of foreign policy Medvedev is little different from Putin," he said. "In Russia the imperial complexes and anti-Western moods still prevail over common sense."

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