Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed billions of dollars in energy, agriculture and commercial accords with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today in Caracas during his first visit to the OPEC nation. Under the agreements, a group of Russian energy companies including OAO Gazprom and OAO Lukoil will work with Petroleos de Venezuela SA in an $18 billion project to develop an oil field that will eventually produce 450,000 barrels per day, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told reporters on March 31. Chavez, who has visited Russia eight times during his 11 years in power, is strengthening ties with governments critical of U.S. foreign policy as he seeks financing and offers stakes in untapped oil reserves. The Venezuelan leader has spent more than $4 billion on Russian rifles, helicopters and fighter jets in what he says is an attempt to protect the country from a possible U.S. invasion. (Bloomberg)

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