MOSCOW Feb 16 Russian state gas giant Gazprom
(GAZP.MM) is in talks to build a system of gas pipelines in
Bolivia, President Dmitry Medvedev said Monday in the latest
Kremlin push to boost its influence in South America.
Medvedev announced the plan after talks in the Kremlin with
Bolivian President Evo Morales, whose visit to Moscow comes soon
after similar trips by fellow leftist leaders Raul Castro of
Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
"We spoke about Russia helping our friends in Bolivia with
hydrocarbons and the construction of a gas transport system,"
Medvedev said after the meeting.
"A memorandum was signed with Gazprom, whose cooperation is
moving into the practical sphere," he said, adding that work on
the "strategic project" would run to 2030. He did not elaborate.
Medvedev said Russian efforts to boost ties with South
America were not aimed at countering the United States,
traditionally the dominant power in the region.
Relations between Moscow and Washington hit a post Cold War
low under former U.S. president George W. Bush, but President
Barack Obama has raised hopes of a thaw since his inauguration
Medvedev visited Cuba, Venezuela, Peru and Brazil during his
first trip to South America in November. The tour coincided with
the first exercises by Russian warships in the Caribbean since
the Cold War.
"I told my colleague President Morales that this is not an
opportunistic decision. It is not a wish to compete with
anyone," Medvedev said.
"It is a conscious decision by our country, that we think is
beneficial both for us and for the countries of South America
which are developing so fast."
Morales, the first Bolivian leader to visit Moscow since
diplomatic relations were established between the two countries,
said South Americans supported Russia's moves in the region.
"We acknowledge Russia's role as a global power," Morales
said during the meeting. "We welcome Russia's return to Latin
Medvedev said the pair signed an agreement on battling drug
trafficking, which he described as "a global threat."
Morales in November banned the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration from working in Bolivia after accusing the agency
of spying and conspiring to overthrow him.
Medvedev said he hoped to boost security ties with Bolivia,
saying the first major deal on helicopter sales was in works.
Medvedev gave no details.
Interfax news agency earlier quoted Russia's state-run arms
exporter Rosoboronexport as saying Bolivia was seeking to buy a
transport modification of the Mi-17 helicopter.
The head of the federal service overseeing arms trade told
reporters after signing of a series of intergovernmental
agreements with Bolivia that talks on sales were at a very early
The two leaders also discussed cooperation in the
hydroelectric and mining sectors as well as upgrading Soviet-era
factories, Medvedev said.
(Writing by Conor Humphries; Editing by Jon Boyle)