MOSCOW, Feb 16 (Reuters) - 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 in January.
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 America.”
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 stage.
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) (firstname.lastname@example.org; +7495-7751242)