Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Russia to aid Bolivia drugs fight

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and Bolivian president Evo Morales (right)
A warm welcome for Evo Morales on the first visit by a Bolivian leader

Russia is set to supply helicopters to Bolivia to help in the fight against the illegal drugs trade, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said.

Mr Medvedev's remarks came as he and his Bolivian counterpart, Evo Morales, held talks in Moscow on increasing energy and defence co-operation.

Russia is trying to boost its influence in the region, correspondents say.

Late last year, Mr Morales halted US anti-narcotics operations in Bolivia amid tensions with Washington.

President Morales was making the first visit to Moscow by a Bolivian leader.

Among the accords signed was one for military-technical co-operation.

"We hope that very soon we will begin carrying out the first big contract to deliver Russian helicopters to Bolivia," President Medvedev said, describing drug trafficking as "a global threat that is a danger for the entire planet".

He did not say how many helicopters would be provided but Russian officials suggested it would be under 20, the Associated Press reported.

Gas reserves

Bolivia is the biggest producer of coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine after Colombia and Peru, and has long been the focus of US anti-drug efforts.

Last year, Mr Morales ordered a stop to operations by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in Bolivia, accusing the agency of having encouraged anti-government protests in the country in September.

The US government had earlier added Bolivia to a list of countries that it said had failed in their counter-narcotics obligations.

During Monday's talks, Mr Medvedev and Mr Morales also signed an agreement on energy co-operation.

The Russian leader said his country would help Bolivia, which has large natural gas reserves, develop a pipeline network and explore gas fields in a project running through to 2030.

President Morales praised the renewed attention Russia was playing to Latin America.

"Russia's return to the region is very important," he told a news conference.

President Medvedev said Russia was keen to expand its ties with Latin American nations, but had "no desire to compete with anyone", in an apparent reference to the US.

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Washington Post Bolivia's Morales calls on Total to up investment - 34 hrs ago
Denver Post From Russia with copters and energy aid - 38 hrs ago
Miami Herald Bolivia to get Russian copters - 48 hrs ago
Boston Globe Russia offering helicopters to Bolivia - 49 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Bolivia, Russia agree on energy, military, anti-drug co-op - 53 hrs ago

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