Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow on October 4, 2017. Yuri KADOBNOV / POOL / AFP
Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro thanked Russian President Putin for his support, after they held talks in Moscow Wednesday focussed on financial aid for the crisis-stricken Latin American country.
Venezuela, which has been rocked by deadly protests and economic chaos that has caused dire shortages of food and medicine, is counting on Russian support amid growing international isolation.
“I thank you for all the support, both political and diplomatic, during the difficult moments we are experiencing,” Maduro said in remarks before the two presidents met behind closed doors.
“We see that Venezuela is undergoing an uneasy time. There is the impression that you have nonetheless managed to establish some kind of contact with the political forces that oppose you,” Putin said.
The Kremlin said prior to the meeting that the two would discuss debt restructuring.
“With regard to the Venezuelan-Russian talks, debt restructuring is, of course, one of the subjects of the negotiations,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.
“No doubt the subject should be seriously discussed. That is why the talks are being conducted,” Peskov added.
Maduro said in a video tweet as he emerged from the Kremlin after the 2.5-hour meeting that “it’s been an extraordinary day of work with President Putin,” adding that the two consolidated a “strategic relationship” though without elaborating on what the two agreed.
In 2011, Russia granted Venezuela a loan to finance the purchase of Russian arms including tanks and missiles.
Venezuela has struggled to service the debt, which stood at $2.8 billion as of 2016.
Moscow also appears to have found a roundabout way to prop up the crisis-stricken country by extending a loan through oil giant Rosneft.
Rosneft run by Putin’s top ally Igor Sechin has lent its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA around $6 billion since 2014, according to the oil major’s financial results released earlier this year.
Maduro’s unravelling leftist government is facing increasing international isolation, with close to 130 people killed in anti-regime protests and the United States putting the Venezuelan president under direct sanctions.
Before meeting Putin, Maduro told a Russian energy forum in Moscow that Venezuela has been “subject to financial persecution for the past three years” and called US-imposed sanctions on Caracas “brutal and unprecedented.”
“But we are prepared, Venezuela won’t be stopped,” Maduro said.
Moscow has sided with Maduro’s regime over the protests and criticised the Venezuelan opposition for “disrupting” elections.
International powers accuse Maduro of dismantling democracy by taking over state institutions in a bid to counter opposition pressure for him to quit.
From Moscow Maduro is scheduled to travel to authoritarian Belarus and Turkey.
Russia and Venezuela enjoy a long history of ties and Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, known for his passionate tirades against the United States, was a welcome guest at the Kremlin.