Russian President Dmitri Medvedev travels to Venezuela later Wednesday, as he continues a drive to increase Russian influence in Latin America.

Mr. Medvedev is scheduled to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during the first trip by a Russian president to the South American country.

Russia and Venezuela have strengthened ties as both countries seek to counter U.S. influence in Latin America.

Mr. Medvedev's visit comes a day after Russian warships sailed into a Venezuelan port for a series of joint military exercises.

The U.S. State Department said Monday that Washington will carefully monitor the military exercises, but it dismissed the notion that they represent a challenge to U.S. influence in the region.

President Chavez has also said the exercises are not a provocation.

The Russian president is traveling to Venezuela from Brazil, where he was due to sign agreements Wednesday with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to increase cooperation in a variety of industries, including nuclear energy.

Mr. Medvedev said he hopes to double trade with Brazil in the next few years.

The Russian leader will also travel to Cuba during his tour of the region.  He met this past week with U.S. President George Bush at a summit of Pacific Rim countries in Lima, Peru.


Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.