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Page last updated at 14:40 GMT, Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Venezuela welcomes Russian ships

The Russian vessels approach La Guiaira on 25 November
The exercises will begin at sea on 1 December

Russian warships have arrived for joint exercises with Venezuela's navy, the first deployment of its kind in the Caribbean since the Cold War.

The naval squadron, including a nuclear-powered cruiser, sailed into view at the port of La Guaira.

The exercises will coincide with a two-day visit by Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, which starts on Wednesday.

He is on a tour of Latin America, pushing Russia's ties to a region of deep strategic interest to the US.

The Russian vessels, including the flagship missile cruiser Peter the Great and two support vessels, appeared off La Guaira, near Caracas, early on Tuesday.

The destroyer Admiral Chabanenko docked while Venezuelan forces fired a 21-gun salute.

Timing

The Russian vessels are set to begin manoeuvres in port on Wednesday, the day Mr Medvedev is due to arrive in Caracas, and from 1 December exercises will be out out at sea.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reviews an hour gaurd during his visit to Peru
President Medvedev signed a range of accords on his first stop in Peru

President Medvedev is expected to visit the ships with his Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez, before he continues on to Cuba.

The timing of Mr Medvedev's tour is significant, coming during the transition period between the Bush and Obama administrations in the US, says BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus.

The Russian president's aim is to show Washington that if the US does things in Europe near Russia's borders which Moscow does not like, then Russia can pursue its own policies in a region long seen by Washington as its backyard, our correspondent says.

Boosting bilateral trade between Russia and Latin America, which could reach $15bn (9.9bn) this year, is another priority for the Russian president during his talks.

Mr Medvedev's tour began in Peru where he signed a series of economic and political co-operation accords.

He then travelled on to Brazil, the region's key economic powerhouse.

Russia is keen to press the benefits of Russian technology in the areas of oil exploration, aerospace and defence.

Brazil is currently overhauling its armed forces and is planning to spend billions of dollars in the next few years to refurbish equipment, a prospect that has excited defence contractors from several countries, Reuters reports.

New partners

Russia is already a major arms supplier to Venezuela, with contracts worth some $4.4bn (2.39bn).

Inauguration of Venezuela-Russian oil platform on 11 November
Venezuela and Russia have increased energy co-operation

During his visit to Caracas, Mr Medvedev could sign an accord under which Russia would help Venezuela build a nuclear energy plant in the state of Zulia.

The two countries already co-operate closely on energy matters, with their state-owned energy companies embarking on joint enterprises.

Mr Medvedev's visit takes place just a few days after the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, toured several Latin American nations with a view to strengthening ties.

Bilateral trade between Latin America and China is around $100bn a year. It is still far less than trade with the US ($560bn) or the EU ($250bn), but the trend is significant. China is buying more and more Latin American commodities like oil, minerals and soya.

Latin American governments of all political colours have themselves in recent years been seeking new commercial and diplomatic allies in what they see as a changing, multi-polar world.



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