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Russia returns to Latin America with oil, arms contracts
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"Russia has already returned to Latin America, including Cuba," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in summing up his first visit to Latin American countries last week.

Observers doubt the possible occurrence of another missile crisis like the one in 1962 between the then rivals, but believed that Moscow is striving to regain influence in the so-called backyard of Washington by enhancing economic and military cooperation.

All-round ties promoted

During the week-long tour to Peru, Brazil, Venezuela and Cuba and presence at the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) summit in Lima, Medvedev was accompanied by a delegation of senior officials, business tycoons as well as Russian warships which arrived earlier in Venezuela for a joint drill.

"Latin America is big and to tell the truth we have never been really present here. We are launching full-fledged and full-format mutually beneficial relations with Latin American partners," the Russian head of state told Latin American countries leaders in a dinner banquet.

Following talks between Medvedev and his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, a package of agreements were inked in such fields of shipbuilding, oil exploration, peaceful use of nuclear energy, air-links and visa-free visits.

The two oil-and-gas rich countries also agreed to use national currencies in mutual settlements, set up a joint bank and develop military and military-technological cooperation, Russian media reported.

In Cuba, Medvedev talked with Cuban leader Raul Castro and his brother Fidel Castro and pledged to further political and economic ties with the traditional partner in the Caribbean Sea.

Analysts say Russia's arms, high-tech products as well as energy technology and funds were popular in Latin America, which will further boost bilateral trade that hit 11 billion U.S. dollars last year, with a 30 percent growth expected for 2008.

In fact, Medvedev has vowed, in his foreign policy guidelines issued in July, to develop a strategic partnership with Brazil and expand political and economic cooperation with other Latin American states including Argentina, Mexico, Cuba and Venezuela.

"It's a serious geopolitical decision: We'll develop relations with Latin America and Caribbean countries," Medvedev said by the end of his most publicized foreign trip since taking office in May and as the first Russian leader to visit Peru and Venezuela.

A warning to Washington

Relations between Moscow and Washington were frozen since the later initiated plans last year to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe, a move Kremlin says will threaten its national security.

Things got worse after a five-day war between Russia and Georgia, a former Soviet republic striving to join NATO with support from the United States.

Moscow has threatened to take counter measures if the U.S. components, including interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, were deployed as planned.

It also resumed patrols by strategic bombers over world oceans and sailed navy warships for visits and joint exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and Caribbean Sea.

Some observers say Medvedev's visit was another step to cope with Washington though its influence will only be limited.

"I also expect Latin America to have the same attitude toward the missile defense issue... but I don't think we'll see any strategic alliances," the Russian Profile website quoted Eugenia Voiko, a foreign policy expert at the Center for the Political Environment of Russia, as saying.

Meanwhile, observers believe that Medvedev's visit served to help his country to regain international influence, especially when the global financial crisis is leading towards a reshuffle of the world financial order.

During the visit, Medvedev proposed to hold a summit of the BRICs countries, involving leaders from the soaring emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China.

"I think that this trip was rather useful, not to say that we managed to restore and even reconstruct, build new relations with the countries with which we did not have such relations," Medvedev said in his video blog.

(Xinhua News Agency December 1, 2008)

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