President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Ladies and gentlemen, Mr President – dear Hugo,
I would like to say a few words before you begin asking questions. Of course, I am very happy that today, we are receiving a visit from our close friend and partner, President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Mr Hugo Chavez.
As we had agreed, we are maintaining regular contact. Our interactions are not limited to face-to-face meetings, we are constantly in touch by telephone, as well as by correspondence. But most importantly, our teams – the people who were present today during our talks, several dozen people altogether – have been negotiating actively, and their fruitful negotiation has resulted in some significant progress in our bilateral cooperation.
Today, we reached agreements on a wide range of issues, bringing our relations to a fundamentally new strategic level. We were already close partners, but the documents we signed today will make our relations stable for years and decades to come.
First and foremost, they involve economic cooperation. Mr President and I just signed an intergovernmental agreement on strategic aspects of cooperation, covering the areas of economic cooperation in oil and gas sectors. We agreed to launch joint ventures, such as the one which will operate in the Orinoco river delta, and many other projects envisaged by the documents we signed today. The fact those documents are most detailed and specific evidences the great deal of progress we have made.
I hope there will be more agreements to follow. We are ready to further expand cooperation between our countries not only in the energy sector, where our nations are already closer partners and major suppliers of oil and gas, as well as oil and gas products, but also in other areas identified in the documents we signed today. Some other documents will certainly be signed at a later stage.
I am confident we have not wasted any time as we really do see most positive results from our efforts. In my view, these results will materialise into new economic projects that will benefit our countries, our peoples, and our neighbours, that is why they are of great significance.
During out talks in restricted attendance, I told the President of Venezuela that in recent years, Russia has made several major steps in improving relations with the nations of South America. We very much value our relations with our key ally, Venezuela. At the same time, during the talks I had on my visit to Latin America and during visits by Latin American leaders to Russia in the last year, we have been able to state that today, our cooperation with the nations of Latin America is systemic and solid, and aimed to last for decades to come. I believe it is also a sign that we are growing closer.
We are not pitting ourselves against Latin America or anyone else, and indeed, we are confident that this continent is important and spiritually close to us. In this regard, we support many initiatives that are being promoted by Venezuela in Latin America, and feel that such steps bring different peoples closer together. It is also conducive to resolving some very difficult problems that the nations of South America face today. Russia will do what it can to support Venezuela’s efforts.
As for other issues, we exchanged opinions on the financial crisis and talked about the trends in oil pricing. We discussed how we can improve gas cooperation and develop the institution we recently set in order to deal with matters of gas cooperation. We also talked about regional problems. Overall, we were able to cover nearly all the aspects that are currently relevant for both Russia and Venezuela. We also noted that we have similar or compatible positions on nearly all such issues.
I am very happy about this, because it is only through these kinds of exchanges of opinion that we can form a modern foreign policy agenda and resolve the most difficult challenges that stand before us. That is why I wanted to mention a few things that, in my view, characterise today’s working visit by the President of Venezuela to the Russian Federation.
I would also like to note that Mr President is in excellent physical health, even though he has come to Russia after a very long tour. Even so, as always, he is energetic, makes jokes, and suggests solutions to a variety of issues – both bilateral and international. This makes us very happy, because when the leader of a nation is an energetic individual who wants to develop relations with the Russian Federation, this is very good for us.
Thank you, Hugo.
President of Venezuela Hugo Chavez (as translated into Russian): Thank you very much, Dmitry.
Mr President, my dear friend, my greetings to you and the entire Russian Government, the entire Russian people and society, and journalists from the media of Russia, Europe and the whole world.
We have been making progress, moving forward. We have no choice but to move forward, and fortunately, we were quick to start building our relations with Russia. It’s said in Venezuela, and throughout Latin America, that God helps early risers. We are an early riser. When the century was just new still and the decade only just begun, we were already here, starting to work intensively, and our countries – Russia and Venezuela — have already achieved so much, already made progress on so many issues in this first decade of the twenty-first century.
As you noted just now, we have laid the foundation for our relations for the years to come, for many years ahead. This is indeed the case. It is not short-term opportunities that have brought us together today but the strategic road we have chosen. Adding to what you said just now, Dmitry, over this first decade of the century we have strengthened and consolidated our relations for the entire century in all different areas: our diplomatic, political, geopolitical, economic, energy, science and technology, military technical, humanitarian and cultural relations. Yesterday evening at the Peoples’ Friendship University, a group of Russian young people sang Venezuelan songs. This is a sign that we have drawn sufficiently close to each other over this decade to affirm that we have become more than partners. Today, we are consolidating an enduring strategic alliance, and I am confident that this alliance will last forever.
I want to thank you for your attentiveness. We will never forget your visit to Caracas, Dmitry, and we hope to see you come again. I want to thank you for the time you have found for us here in Russia this autumn. This is a wonderful time for our meeting. We have examined all the different issues, from tactical to strategic, and discussed future prospects – prospects for the oil giants, for example. We discussed our enterprises in this sector and how to coordinate our efforts, the efforts of our two countries that are giants of the oil industry. This is something we also discussed in Iran and looked at what we can do in this area.
It needs to be said in this respect that by the end of this century we could well face a serious energy crisis if we do not start taking action right now, because oil reserves are on the decline, and only four or five countries in the world have sufficient reserves. We have sufficient scientifically proven reserves to get us through the entire century.
Russia is the leader in this sector. Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Brazil all have big oil reserves. In Latin America therefore, not only Venezuela but also Brazil shares our road. We stand together to oppose those who would seek to get their hands on our resources, as happened throughout the centuries of the colonial era. The imperialist age is a thing of the past now. The colonial era is a thing of the past.
Dmitry, we can see now, and you saw for yourself when you visited Africa, this wonderful fraternal continent, that polycentric world is no longer just a dream, just an idea. It exists and is visible now. Venezuela and Russia are playing their parts, fulfilling their functions, and I want to thank Russia for the support it has always given us in regard to multilateral and multifunctional undertakings.
The serious work our delegations did today proves our commitment to these principles. We signed an agreement on setting up our first joint venture to develop oil production in the Orinoco River area. The world’s biggest oil reserves are concentrated in the Orinoco River basin. This company will produce 400,000 barrels a day.
We are also building an oil refinery and will sell its products throughout Latin America and the entire world. This agreement has key importance for our relations.
I also want to mention the financial sector. We examined once again the matter of establishing a bilateral bank and we are now entering the concluding phase. We have carried out the final evaluation and by the end of this year or the start of 2010 this bank will be up and running and able to finance the whole range of projects we have in Russia or Venezuela, or in both countries, and in third countries, in other parts of Latin America.
I have briefed the President on the situation in Latin America today, on how the ties between the countries that are part of the Bolivarian Union are growing stronger. I proposed that Russia become an observer country at the ALBA summit, and the President thought this a useful idea. The next summit will take place in Cochabamba in Bolivia in a month’s time.
We discussed geopolitics, politics, the past and the future. We signed an agreement on establishing a joint venture to develop and process kaolin in Venezuela, and we also signed an agreement on disused old oil wells from which it is possible to extract oil and derivative products. We have decided to increase trade between our countries, and our military technical cooperation is also making confident progress.
A lot of people say now that Venezuela has a plan — and that Russia supports it — of spreading the Bolivarian revolution by military force. This is not the case, and you know that this is not the case. We are not threatening aggression against anyone, and neither is Russia. But we do have the right to self-defence, and we are building up our military capability in order to protect our resources and territory, in order to bolster our defence capability and military technical cooperation.
I therefore want to thank you very much, Dmitry. You know that Venezuela is a friendly country, and we in Venezuela see you, and the great country that is Russia, as a brother.
Thank you very much.
Question: This question is for both presidents. Venezuela has already established joint banks with several countries and now states its intent to open one with Russia too. How will establishing this bank help Russia and Venezuela to combine their efforts in the face of the economic crisis?
You also said that Russia and Venezuela have signed an agreement on fighting drug trafficking. In what way does the agreement between Russia and Venezuela differ from, say, similar agreements signed between the USA and Columbia?
Hugo Chavez: The financial question is the biggest issue in the world today. It has always been so, but the serious consequences of the global financial crisis have made it more important than ever. The great German philosopher Karl Marx said that crises produce the impetus needed for the development or emergence of a new historical form. That was how Marx described the future, and this great thinker seems to have been right. This crisis is indeed bringing us together and forcing us to take the initiative. Speaking about revolution, Trotsky once said that any revolution needs the stick to fight counterrevolution.
Good, then this crisis will push us forward and give us the impetus we need to start shaping a new future, a new economic, political, social and moral world. This is something I talked about with the President.
We were in Iran just three days ago. Iran is one of our friends, and it is also one of Russia’s friends, and we are very pleased with this. We held the first general assembly of our bilateral bank. We have already opened its head offices in Iran and in Caracas. I hope too, to see the head office of our joint bank with Russia open soon in Caracas. I hope this will take place before the end of the year, for we cannot afford to lose time. You can expect to hear the same thing from President [of Ecuador Rafael] Correa, who will arrive here soon.
There are risks in any delays, and so we cannot afford to go slow. Bolivar also said that the world is accelerating. He said so almost 200 years ago, and I recollected his words yesterday. The world is speeding up, and this acceleration may become harmful unless we keep up with it or move even faster than the changes taking place in the world.
As for the crisis, this is something we discussed after watching Oliver Stone’s film in Venice. Incidentally, he shot a very good documentary about Latin America’s renaissance and the non-violent revolutions there. We discussed the global crisis and the dire prospects painted by [Joseph] Stiglitz. We talked about the decline underway, the global financial decline and continued fall.
Measures that should have been taken have not been, and the USA continues printing dollars. They have this money-printing machine going. I think this is a simple business. If you had such a machine, you could print away too and flood the world with any old paper of no value at all. This is what the USA is doing.
Fidel said to me, “You see how the USA is buying up the world with plain old paper”. Fidel told me 10 years ago that this soap bubble would burst, and I think it is a good thing that it has happened. We hope to see the ruble take on an international role as a reserve currency, and the yuan, and perhaps the bolivar too someday.
We are establishing a new currency, the sucre, within the ALBA group, the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. You asked me about these matters, and I think these are the most important things. We need to get these banks working in order to finance the projects we have waiting. Venezuela has gone through some difficult times, as has Russia, though Russia is a powerful country and is back on its feet now. Of course, this has taken place under your leadership, under Putin’s leadership, and we now once again see the Russian people united.
Thank you very much. I have probably spoken for too long again.
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I agree entirely with the fundamental reasons that Hugo has given for establishing this bank, and fully share the view that thinkers such as Karl Marx and Trotsky, and contemporary economists such as Stiglitz provide a theoretical basis for this undertaking, as does the legacy of the great Bolivar. They have all willed that we establish this bank, and establish it we will.
What is its purpose? The answer is very simple. We have varied and substantial relations with Venezuela. We are working together on a very broad range of projects, big projects, as the president described just now, and it is very likely that their number will grow.
Why, in this case, should we go through other banks when we can establish our own? This is why we decided several years ago to set up this bank. I think in fact that we have dawdled somewhat with this project, and we have had to give some colleagues a push to get them working faster.
Now we have finalised the bank’s participants and set its charter capital at four billion dollars. This is enough to start with. We will add more if need be. The main thing is to be able to finance big projects and perhaps also work on improving our bilateral trade. As I said to the President today, we are giving an impulse to important large projects, but at the same time, our bilateral trade is still rather limited for such close friends and partners as Russia and Venezuela. This is something we therefore also need to expand.
How can we develop our trade? We need to make money available. I think therefore that not only do we need to set up this bank, we need to open it by the end of the year, and this will give us the real boost we need to develop our trade and economic cooperation and get our major projects moving. I will be very happy to see this happen.
In reply to your second question, I want to say the following words. Cooperation of any kind, including on such important issues as fighting drug trafficking and organised crime, should be depoliticised. No one benefits from turning cooperation in this area into an instrument for applying political pressure. On the contrary, such an approach creates threats to security. The whole world suffers from evils such as drugs, organised crime, trans-border crime, and we all need to make the needed effort to fight these evils. We are ready to work with Venezuela to do this. The main thing is that our action be effective.
The President cited a number of examples from Latin America. I can tell you that such examples exist in Eurasia too. What do we see happening in Afghanistan? They are in the process of rebuilding their country, have just held elections, and the votes are still being counted, the final result has not been announced yet. But at the same time, this country has turned into the biggest supplier of hard drugs to Europe. Everybody suffers from this, the Russian Federation included. We are ready to work together with our partners in Afghanistan and Central Asia to address this issue. But as I said, we must not allow cooperation in this field to turn into a means of political pressure. This kind of cooperation should be free of politics and aimed at protecting national interests, above all the interests of our own citizens, who are suffering the consequences of this evil.
Our Security Council held a recent meeting on this subject, and Russia reiterated its support for international efforts. I proposed measures at this meeting for combating the drugs problem in Russia.
Question: As an Ossetian, I want to say a big thank you to President Chavez for declaring today Venezuela’s recognition of South Ossetia. My question is for both presidents.
Venezuela has long been one of Russia’s biggest arms buyers, and a month ago, Mr Chavez said that he plans soon to buy a new lot of Russian tanks. But we saw no contracts in this area signed during this visit. Can we expect to see any new military technical contracts soon, and if so, what will be their financing mechanisms? Thank you very much.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you for your question.
I would like to join my voice to yours and once more express my thanks to our friend, the President of Venezuela, for the decision announced here during this visit to Russia. I want to stress that we have never tried to persuade or pressure anyone into taking the international step of recognizing these new countries. But we are not indifferent to the fate of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We were the first country to come to the aid of these two new independent states, the first country to recognize their legal status, and we are pleased to see that support for them is increasing in the world.
As for our military technical cooperation with Venezuela, this is an important part of our relations and we do not hide this. I will not hide the fact that contracts in this field are not always signed in full view of the public. We will supply Venezuela with the types of arms it asks for, acting in compliance with our international obligations. We will certainly deliver tanks too, why not? We have good tanks. If our friends order tanks, we will deliver them.
Hugo Chavez: Thank you very much, Mr President.
Through this young Ossetian journalist I would like to send my greetings to the entire Ossetian people. We are looking forward to this visit, knowing its importance for the whole region, knowing how important independence is for the whole peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
A delegation from this country is currently visiting Latin America, where they are gaining increasing recognition and will continue to do so. The recognition of these republics needs to be given a further impulse and Venezuela will now give this process a new boost, holding talks with friendly governments and allies in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
An important summit, the South America-Africa summit, will take place soon in Venezuela, on Margarita Island in the Caribbean. We are working hard on the preparations.
As for military technical cooperation, there is a lot of speculation on this subject. We from Venezuela have to make it clear that there is no arms race underway. We are carrying out strategic plans. Venezuela’s GDP is growing. Ten years ago, Venezuela’s GDP was a lot lower than $200 billion. Now it stands at $300 billion and it will continue to grow and surpass $400 billion despite the financial crisis. Our country keeps growing fast regardless the crisis.
This applies to oil production, too. We could increase it, despite the crisis and the restrictions imposed by OPEC, through increase of productivity of our oil production. Venezuela’s oil reserves were 80 billion barrels, I mean scientifically proven reserves, ten years ago. Please, write this figure down. Those were proven and assessed reserves. Now our discovered reserves are reaching 150 billion barrels and may reach 300 billion barrels. We have a plan for further oil reserves prospecting and the figure may reach 300 billion barrels by the end of the next year. Russia has helped us with its technology, including drilling in the oil-bearing belt along the Orinoco. This has helped our country to recover after the slump it had gone through.
Venezuela had a population of only four million people 55 years ago, but today it is home to 30 million people and the population growth is 1.8% per annum. We have many children. Personally, I have three grandchildren and will soon have four. Forecasts predict that Venezuela’s population will rise to 50 million by 2050, by the middle of the century.
We are a young country, a dynamic country, a country that only recently liberated itself from colonialism, as we were enslaved and oppressed first by a European empire, and then by the empire of the Yankees. Now we are free, and we need to build up our defence capability.
I want to thank you, because we should not forget that when we came to power the US government, pursuing its own goals, set about using a whole range of international measures to attempt to leave us disarmed, including by breaching contracts signed years before that. For example, we had bought F-16 planes from the USA many years ago. Now they are refusing to deliver the spare parts for these planes with the result that some of them can no longer fly.
But on July 5 two Sukhoi planes arrived and like eagles made a flight in the sky above Caracas and with the arrival of Sukhoi planes we are free and the US blockade no longer has any effect on us.
Look at Brazil. They make good planes. We could buy Tucano planes from Lula. These are reconnaissance aircraft that can be used to fight drug trafficking. They are well suited to our purposes and can support our ground forces. They are not equipped with guns or other arms. Now, most of them cannot fly. Why, because Brazil uses North American technology and the Americans refuse to supply us with spare parts for these planes.
The USA refused to allow a Spanish firm to make transport planes for Venezuela. Venezuela only has a few of the Hercules planes it purchased many years ago now, again because we cannot buy spare parts for them. We are blockaded on all sides. The old rifles that we received from NATO fifty years ago are worthless now. We were not able to get any spare parts until the Russian Government came to our aid and signed an agreement with us. But I stress that this agreement is not directed against anyone. That is what I can say on this interesting question.
Once again, I thank President Medvedev and the whole of Russia.
Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Until we meet again!