Eight visits in eight years. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez has been here so often that the Moscow media calls him "Russia's comrade- in-arms-and-oil," a phrase that neatly summarizes the growing politicization of a relationship whose profitable core is trade in weapons and energy.
On this occasion, Mr. Chavez presented a special gift to his Russian hosts, by declaring at a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev that Venezuela will extend official recognition to the breakaway statelets of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, over whose survival Russia fought a brief but bloody war with Georgia last year. Until now, only the tiny Central American state of Nicaragua has joined Moscow in recognizing the independence of the two republics, a fact that appears to underscore Russia's deep diplomatic isolation on the world stage.
"Venezuela from today is joining in the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Chavez said. "We soon will begin actions to establish diplomatic relations with these countries." Both of the tiny, mountainous statelets remain virtual Russian dependencies with little trade or access to the outside world.
"Thank you, Hugo," responded Mr. Medvedev. "Russia has always supported a country's sovereign right to recognize or not recognize a state's independence. But of course we are not indifferent to the fate of these two states. We are very grateful," he added.
Russian experts say Chavez gesture may have cost him little, but it was just what the Kremlin wanted to hear.
"Venezuela is an important South American state, and for it to take this step matters a lot to us, because it shows that we are not alone," says Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the Russian State Duma's foreign affairs committee. "It's yet another signal that our strategic partnership with Venezuela is growing. For us, this is a new part of the world where we can do business and find cooperative relationships. It's not directed against the US or anyone else."
As he usually does on these visits, Chavez gave a speech filled with inflammatory political rhetoric, this time to students at Patrice Lumumba, a Moscow university attended largely by students from Third World countries.
Amid cheers and applause, he told the students that the days of a "unipolar world" dominated by Washington are numbered. "The US wants to own the entire world, but the Yankee empire is falling," he said. And he praised his Russian hosts, Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying "I believe Putin and Medvedev will leave behind a great legacy not only for Russia but for the entire world. …