Putin Urges Dialogue Between Venezuela's Maduro, Opposition, Warns Refusal to Do So May Deepen Crisis
File photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Moscow: Russian President Vladimir Putin told Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro Wednesday he supported talks between the embattled leader and the opposition, warning that refusing dialogue could further threaten the crisis-wracked country.
Welcoming the leftist leader at the Kremlin, Putin reiterated support for Maduro but also indicated the Venezuelan president should be open to dialogue with his critics.
"No doubt we support the dialogue that you, Mr President, and your government are having with the opposition forces," Putin said.
"We believe that any refusal to have dialogue is irrational, harms the country, and only threatens the population's well-being."
While Putin praised cooperation between the two countries, there were no plans to sign any new deals during Maduro's visit, the Kremlin has said.
Putin pointed to growing trade turnover which included agricultural supplies to Venezuela where a quarter of the 30-million-strong population is in need of humanitarian aid.
Russia plans to send up to 600,000 tonnes of grain to the crisis-stricken country this year, up from 254,000 tonnes last year, authorities said.
Putin also said his country would send to Venezuela 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine "in the near future".
Russia is the second largest lender to Caracas after China, with Moscow heavily investing in Venezuela's oil resources and Caracas acquiring Russian arms worth billions of dollars.
But Venezuela's economic collapse has dealt a blow to bilateral ties and Moscow has not provided any fresh loans to Caracas over the past few years.
The South American leader said Wednesday's talks were "very important". "We have proved that together we can overcome any difficulties," Maduro said in translated remarks.
Hit by low oil prices, mismanagement and the impact of US sanctions, Venezuela is in freefall and Maduro is seeking support from allies after winning a second term in a controversial vote last year.
Most of the international community did not recognise the results of the polls.
Washington has thrown its weight behind a campaign to oust the socialist president and supported self-declared interim leader Juan Guaido.
A handful of countries led by Russia and China have staunchly defended Maduro.
Washington, which has imposed an oil embargo on Caracas to undermine Maduro, has repeatedly called on Moscow to withdraw support for the Venezuelan leader.
Russia has rejected the request, accusing the US of wanting to lead a coup in defiance of international law.
Putin's spokesman said on the eve of the meeting that the two leaders would also discuss "direct meddling in Latin American affairs by third parties".
The Venezuelan leader last visited Moscow for talks with Putin in December.
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.
The oil-rich country suffers from hyper-inflation and shortages of basic goods from food to medicine, a crisis that has forced some 3.6 million people to flee since 2016.
The Venezuelan opposition's attempts to oust Maduro have failed.
Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group think-tank, said Maduro's Moscow visit showed he was "secure enough in his power." "Looking ever more bleak for the Venezuelan people," he said on Twitter.