Belarus Is on the Side of Bolivar

A brotherly reception

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was in Belarus yesterday for a one-day visit. He had negotiations with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. The two leaders, unpopular in the West, agreed further to withstand the interference of third countries in their domestic affairs and promised to develop "brotherly" relations in all areas. Chavez had to deny certain claims about his military cooperation with Moscow at the beginning of his trip, however.

Chavez flew to Minsk from the Russian capital, where he had had talks the day before with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. By the time Chavez got to Belarus, the media were abuzz with discussions of his Russian visit. Information agencies quoted the U.S. State Department, which criticized the military-technical cooperation between Moscow and Caracas. State Department representative Gonzalo Gallegos commented on the news of the delivery of 20 antiaircraft systems, 12 military transport planes and 24 fighter jets for $2 billion that the U.S. has repeatedly expressed concern to Russia over Chavez' arms buildup. Gallegos said that Washington thinks that Chavez does not need the weapons and Chavez is only displaying his ambitions.

Unsurprisingly, the first thing Chavez was asked in Minsk is what contracts he brought with him from Moscow, and is it true that they worth $30 billion. "I do not engage in the perversions that various agencies spread," he told journalists. "Numbers like that are crazy! Better to ask me how much money we invested in the development of our country!"

An answer like that is well within the limits of neither confirming nor denying, and Chavez decided not to return to the topic. Kommersant has learned that Chavez took a keen interest in buying a large lot of Igla-S portable ballistic missile complexes (up to 2500 of them). A Rosoboronexport spokesman told Kommersant that "The Venezuelans expressed the intention of obtaining Iglas during the first round of our meetings in 2005, when questions of providing factories to make Kalashnikov machineguns, helicopters and fighter jets were also raised," the spokesman said. "However, we are not making an agreement on portable ballistic missiles, because of agreements with the United States on the nonproliferation of that type of weapon."

Chavez spoke exclusively of peaceful initiates at his meeting with Lukashenko. "We have cooperation on oil and gas in progress, there is a project to begin the production of cars and equipment in Venezuela. We are finishing the project for the assembly of tractors and trucks," Chavez said. It is noted in official reports that they "discussed the implementation of bilateral projects, paying attention to cooperation in the fuel and energy and finance spheres and the creation of joint ventures." The two leaders, who are equally unloved in the West, made special efforts to emphasize their special relations. Lukashenko emphasized that Belarus and Venezuela are tied not only by mutual interest, but by real friendship. He expressed his willingness to develop "brotherly" relations with Venezuela. "Of course, we are pragmatics, we calculate our actions economically. But you should know that, besides economics, you have the most faithful friend in Belarus. Say what has to be done, and we will do it," Lukashenko told his guest. "It would be unthinkable passing by not to have a look at Minsk, at least for a few hours, and not to confirm our best feelings of friendship for that heroic people, you, our friends," the guest responded.

In spite of the fact that Chavez spent only one day in Minsk, Belarusian authorities tried to make it a memorable day for the Venezuelan leader. A square in Minsk was renamed in honor of Chavez' idol, South American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar. Chavez was touched. Laying a wreath at a bas relief of the national hero of his country, Chavez promised to fight against the enemies of Belarus. "I have fallen in love with the Belarusian land, the Belarusian people, and I commit myself to being the friend of that people. We fight one enemy. We have to call it by name. It is American imperialism. We have won, we will win, but the battle will be long," he said.

Notably, neither president said whether or not they discussed cooperation in forming a unified system of air defense of Venezuela. An agreement on that was signed in 2007 during Lukashenko's visit to Caracas, and in April of this year the document was ratified by the Belarusian parliament. Under the agreement, Belarus will help its ally create a unified air defense system and radar defense facilities.

Vadim Dovnar, Minsk; Nikolay Filchenko, Konstantin Lantratov