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-stricken country.
Welcoming the leftist leader at the Kremlin, Putin reiterated support for Maduro's regime 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.”
Putin praised growing cooperation between the two countries, adding that Russia planned to send to Venezuela 1.5 million doses of flu vaccine “in the near future.”
The South American leader also praised bilateral cooperation.
“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 recognize the results of those 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's regime, 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 US, was a welcome guest at the Kremlin.
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.