Last Friday in Moscow, Russian president Dmitri Medvedev signed a formal agreement obliging his country to help Venezuela launch a nuclear energy program. Vladimir Putin first floated the idea of Russian-Venezuelan nuclear cooperation back in 2008, following the Georgian war, and he signed a preliminary nuclear accord with Hugo Chávez this past April. On Friday, Medvedev and Chávez finalized the deal.
“I don’t know who will shudder at this,” the Russian leader said wryly, insisting that Moscow’s motives in helping Chávez go nuclear were “absolutely pure and open.” (Neither Medvedev nor Chávez offered an exact timeline for the project.) His comments will do little to reassure the United States and its democratic partners in Latin America, who are well aware of Venezuela’s history as a state sponsor of terrorism, a regional bully, and a close ally of the Iranian theocracy. (Indeed, according to the Associated Press, a 2009 Israeli foreign ministry report accused Venezuela of providing Tehran with uranium.)
The very same day that Medvedev and Chávez signed their nuclear pact, Putin told reporters that Russia would be selling Caracas another 35 military tanks. Over the past several years, Moscow has been the main facilitator of Venezuela’s arms buildup. “We are willing to supply tanks and, with respect to other types of weapons, we will do it broadly,” Putin said on Friday. “Russian companies have started to work according to their orders.”
After his stop in Moscow, Chávez headed west to neighboring Belarus and met with its dictator, Alexander Lukashenko. Chávez outlandishly declared that the eastern European country “would feel no shortages of oil in the next 200 years,” thanks to Venezuela. The two governments “are building an alternative to imperialism,” Chávez added.
These remarks may seem more comical than anything, but they should not be ignored. Venezuela has systemically embraced virtually every authoritarian regime and anti-American dictator on the planet. It is now playing the same role that Castro’s Cuba did during the Cold War. As for the nuclear agreement, that should dispel any illusion that Chávez has been a force for stability in the U.S.-Venezuela relationship.