Medvedev, Chávez meet on eve of naval maneuvers

In a ceremony capping the first visit of a Russian president to Venezuela, Hugo Chávez met with Dmitri Medvedev aboard a Russian warship moored off the port of La Guiara Nov. 27, four days before joint military exercises between the two nations were set to begin. Hundreds of Russian sailors in white uniforms stood at attention as the two men boarded the ship to sign accords pledging cooperation in nuclear energy and oil exploration, as well as the purchase two Russian Ilyushin II-96 300 jets, a model often used for travel by Russian presidents. In recent years, Chavez's government has bought more than $4 billion in Russian arms, including Sukhoi fighter jets, helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles.

Earlier, Chávez decorated his Russian counterpart with a gold necklace, the Grand Collar of the Order of the Liberator Simón Bolívar, after Medvedev laid a wreath on the tomb of Bolívar, the liberation hero. The naval maneuvers to open Dec. 1, involving 11 Venezuelan and four Russian ships, have been dubbed Venrus 2008.

Medvedev also met with a group of Chavez's leftist allies during his stay in Venezuela, including presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

Medvedev stopped in Brazil and Peru before his arrival in Venezuela, and continued to Havana, where he met with President Raúl Castro, signing agreements on mining and oil exploration with Cuban leader, and discussing what Medvedev called "military technical cooperation." Medvedev also officiated at the opening of a newly consecrated Russian Orthodox cathedral in Old Havana. (AP, Nov. 29;