Darya Korsunskaya and Anthony Boadle
April 3, 2010

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visited Venezuela on Friday to discuss oil, defense and nuclear energy cooperation with Latin America’s main leftist foe of the United States, President Hugo Chavez.

They were to launch a $20 billion venture between Russian firms and Venezuelan state company PDVSA to pump 450,000 barrels a day — almost a fifth of the OPEC member’s current output — from the vast Orinoco heavy oil belt.

Putin’s 12-hour visit provides a welcome lift for Chavez, who is facing domestic and international criticism for failing to solve Venezuela’s economic woes and attempting to silence opposition to his 11-year rule.

Putin was later to hold talks in Caracas with Bolivian President Evo Morales, along with Chavez the fiercest opponent of what they call U.S. “imperialism” in Latin America.

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