CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) - Russia's energy czar has pledged to invest billions of dollars to tap oilfields in Venezuela and also presented its leader with a personal gift from Russia's animal-loving President Vladimir Putin - a black puppy.
Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia's state-controlled Rosneft oil company, was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying he gave President Hugo Chavez a 3-month-old black terrier puppy as a present from Putin. "He liked it a lot, and he promised to tell me tomorrow what name he would give to him," Sechin was quoted as saying.
Chavez has built close ties with Russia, and on Thursday, a joint venture involving state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA and a consortium of Russian oil companies began to tap a rich deposit of heavy oil in eastern Venezuela.
Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez oversaw a ceremony where a sample of heavy oil was extracted in the eastern state of Anzoategui. The Venezuelan state news agency reported that Ramirez said joint investment involving the Russian consortium and Venezuela is projected to reach about $38 billion.
Ramirez said the Russian consortium includes the companies Rosneft, Lukoil and Gazprom.
Sechin said during a televised event with Chavez on Wednesday that one joint oil projects in the Orinoco River region known as Junin 6 will require about $20 billion in investment during the coming decades and another project, Carabobo 2, will involve between $16 billion and $20 billion in investment.
According to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Venezuela has the world's largest proven oil reserves. Investments such as the joint projects with Russia are aimed at developing the vast reserves of heavy crude in a region known as the Orinoco Oil Belt.
Ramirez said Venezuelan and Russian officials also plan to develop a power plant and form joint companies for oilfield services and construction projects.