Russia tightens ties with Venezuela
by Olivia Kroth
Nicolas Maduro with Vladimir Putin
Russian-Venezuelan ties were first knotted in 1945, when the Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with Venezuela. During the last decade, this relationship has been intensified for the mutual benefit of both countries. Under President Hugo Chavez (1954-2013) Venezuela began enjoying good relations with Russia as its most important trade and military partner in Latin America. By strengthening the Venezuelan-Russian relationship Hugo Chavez wanted to help Vladimir Putin create a multi-polar world, “a world that permits the rights of peoples to liberty, self-determination and sovereignty”. This task is continued by Hugo Chavez’ successor, the current Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. While the Russian Federation has been led by Vladimir Putin either as Prime Minister or as President, the ties between Venezuela and Russia have become stronger.
Vladimir Putin with Hugo Chavez:
Venezuela has the largest oil reserves and is the fifth biggest oil exporter worldwide. In the twelve years of Hugo Chávez’ government, Venezuela ended its dependence on the World Bank and 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 together in the Venezuelan Orinoco Oil Belt. The Orinoco Oil Belt in the country’s northeast is home to about 250 oil fields with an output of six million barrels per day. The Belt comprises an area of 55.000 square kilometres in Venezuela’s states of Anzoategui, Bolivar, Guarico and Monagas.
A 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. The next agreement was concluded in 2015. Rosneft agreed to invest some more money in Venezuela’s oil industry in the coming years (VENEZUELANALYSIS, 28.05.2015). One more contract followed in February 2016, when Rosneft increased its share from 16 to 40 percent in the PetroMonagas mixed enterprise (VENEZUELANALYSIS, 26.02.2016).
Venezuelan oil company PDVSA:
Another important aspect of Russian-Venezuelan ties is military cooperation. 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. Furthermore, 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 and ammunition.
The Russian arms exporting firm Rosoboronexport wants to create helicopter service centres in Venezuela for the Russian helicopters Mi-17V5, Mi-26T and M-35M. This is an important aspect of aftersales service. It applies not only to helicopters but to all military and dual-purpose equipment. “Venezuela is the largest buyer of Russian weapons in Latin America. From 2005 to 2013, about 30 contracts were concluded with Rosoboronexport. Venezuela purchased 100.000 Kalashnikov assault rifles AK-103, 92 T-72B1 battle tanks, 24 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighter jets, 34 Mi-17V5 helicopters, 10 Mi-35M helicopters and 3 Mi-26T helicopters. Also, Russia provided to Venezuela several hundred portable shoulder-launched Igla-S anti-aircraft missile systems, BMP-3 mechanized infantry combat vehicles, armoured personnel carriers and other equipment” (SPUTNIK INTERNATIONAL, 30.03.2016).
Russian nuclear-powered battle cruiser “Peter the Great” visited Venezuela in 2008:
The construction of two Kalashnikov factories will be completed in Venezuela by 2017. The country will start to produce its own “Catatumbo” rifles with Russian design. Already in 2005, Russia and Venezuela had signed a deal to construct a Kalashnikov assembly factory and a munitions plant but these plans were delayed. Then a new contractor was chosen to continue the work. Both factories are already 70 percent complete (SPUTNIK INTERNATIONAL, 01.12.2015). Venezuela wants to produce two types of Russian firearms. The first type is modeled after the famous Russian assault rifle Kalashnikov AK-103 designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov, in 1994. The second type will be modeled after the Russian Dragunov rifle designed by Yevgeny Dragunov, between 1958 and 1963. The “Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova” (SVD) is a semi-automatic sniper rifle, a squad support weapon.
The series of rifles, made in Venezuela, will be 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.
In the cultural area, Russian-Venezuelan cooperation has been intensified as well. The Russian language is taught in national education centres of Venezuela, supervised by the Agency of Cooperation with Russia. These centres organize activities to introduce Russian culture and history in Venezuela with exhibitions, seminars and workshops. In Venezuela interest in Russian culture is growing. Vezuelans are enrolling in Russian language courses and 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.
In Moscow an exhibition at the State University Lomonosov presents “Francisco de Miranda in the Russian Empire”. The faculty of history opened it, on the 21st of March 2016, with José G. Escalona Briceno’s new book at the centre of interest. The author writes about the Venezuelan diplomat and statesman, Franciso de Miranda (1750-1816), who traveled to Russia and spent some time at the Court of Empress Catherine II (Екатерина II Великая, 1729-1796). Russian illustrators created calendar pages with quotations from his diary for the exhibition. Some of these calendar pages show the Venezuelan diplomat with the Empress and General Major Mikhail Kutuzov (Михаил Илларионович Голенищев-Кутузов, 1745-1813).
Central University of Venezuela in Caracas:
28.01.1787, Miranda’s meeting with General Major Mikhail Kutuzov: “We saw a battalion of the Katerinslav Infantry Regiment, which was formed according to the same principle as the one we saw in Crimea. General Major Kutuzov showed it to me. This man is knowledgeable in his profession and in other matters” (SPUTNIK MUNDO, 21.03.2016). Francisco de Miranda was a favourite national hero of the Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Both men fought hard for Venezuela’s indepence and both sought contact to Russia in order to build bridges between their continents.