Caracas: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is to meet the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia in Caracas on Friday to sign military and energy deals that broaden Russia`s footprint in Latin America.
Putin`s first visit to Venezuela underscores Russia`s deepening relations with Latin America`s leading leftist regime, and serves as a gateway to a region long considered as Washington`s backyard.
Russia and Venezuela signed 12 military agreements in 2005 and 2007 worth some USD 4.4 billion that have raised some concern among US policymakers.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said late Thursday that it was "a very important day for the country and for Latin America... We are building a new, multipolar world."
Last week the firebrand leader, in announcing Putin`s visit, thanked Russia for helping Venezuela "bolster its defensive potential" in the face of "threats" from the United States.
Bolivian President Evo Morales is expected to seek a USD 100 million loan from Russia to purchase military hardware, including an Antonov aircraft for the president`s use, officials in La Paz said.
Russian officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, arrived in Caracas on Wednesday to prepare for Putin`s visit.
Putin and Chavez will sign "accords taking us to the next phase of cooperation with Russia, which no longer will be limited to energy and military matters, but now also includes social, cultural and health issues," Vice President Elias Jaua said on Thursday on state-run VTV television.
Topping the list is an agreement to set up a Russian-Venezuelan development bank to finance a joint venture for oil and gas exploration in eastern Venezuela`s oil-rich Orinoco river basin.
The enterprise -- 60 percent owned by Venezuela, 40 percent by a consortium of Russian companies -- hopes to extract up to 450,000 barrels of oil per day from the Amazon region.
Putin and Chavez will also sign cooperation deals in agriculture, transportation, and the prevention of natural catastrophes, according to the meeting agenda.