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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will lay the cornerstone of a new Russian Orthodox cathedral to be constructed in Venezuela, according to Russia's RIA Novosti news agency.

Putin is in Caracas today holding talks with the presidents of Venezuela and Bolivia.

RFE/RL asked one prominent Venezuelan commentator about the reported groundbreaking of the Russian Orthodox cathedral.

"It seems to me absurd in terms of the Russian population that there is in Venezuela," said Elsa Cardozo, a columnist for "El Nacional" newspaper.

"It is a very small community. I don't know the numbers but it is certainly not one of the larger immigrant groups here."

Cardozo says the cathedral will "be a symbol -- a very peculiar one at that -- of the closening relations [of Venezuela] with Russia…. And this I see basically as a symbol of the peculiar vision that Chavez has of religion."

Chavez's religious policies are in fact unorthodox, a fact highlighted in today's Venezuelan newspapers. Along with headlines about Putin's visit, the local press is reporting strong criticism by the Catholic establishment of the Chavez government.

The Catholic Conference of Venezuelan Bishops yesterday implicitly criticized Chavez for the growing "anti-religious spirit diffused by the Marxist atheist current" in Venezuela.

So, even as Venezuela's Catholic establishment feels under pressure, Venezuela's small Russian Orthodox community has reason to celebrate.

-- Michael Hirshman

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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