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Russia Pledges Wheat Shipments To Ease Venezuelan Food Shortage

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro

Russia is pledging to send 60,000 tons of wheat to Venezuela each month, helping alleviate a food crisis in the troubled South American country.

President Vladimir Putin pledged the food aid in a telephone conversation with his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro this week, Venezuelan and Russian officials said.

The support for Maduro comes as thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets demanding elections and blaming Maduro for rising crime, food shortages, and triple-digit inflation. At least 46 people have been killed in clashes during the protests.

Flour is hard to get in Venezuela. It is rarely available in regular grocery stores, forcing people to buy on the black market or wait in line for hours to buy from state-run stores.

U.S. officials have expressed concern about Russia's growing role in Venezuela, which also purchases Russian arms.

Venezuela's state oil company recently put up a nearly 50 percent stake in its Citgo gasoline retailer, a fixture in the U.S. market, as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from the Russian oil company Rosneft. That raised worries that a default by Citgo would allow Putin to gain ownership of a key American assets.

Based on reporting by AP and TASS