Chavez seeks alliance with Moscow

Venezuelan leader says visit will guarantee sovereignty "threatened by the US".

    Chavez said Russia and Venezuela must become strategic allies in the oil sphere [EPA]

    It is his first meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, who took office in May.

    Welcoming Chavez at his castle resort near Moscow, the capital, Medvedev said Russian-Venezuelan relations "are one of the key factors of security in the (South American) region".

    However, Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Moscow, said Russia is determined to keep the visit low-profile.

    "Russia's leadership has changed since Chavez's last visit. But the Kremlin remains keen to keep things low key … For Moscow, Chavez is a valued weapons buyer, but also something of a loaded weapon where his virulent anti-US rhetoric is concerned."

    Arms shopping

    Russian media have reported that Chavez is expected to reach a number of agreements for purchasing Russian military hardware while in Moscow, with one
    paper reporting the deals could be worth up to $2bn.

    Tomas Ramirez, Chavez’s spokesman, said the president was also scheduled to meet Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, as well as several military and business leaders.

    Kommersant, a Russian daily newspaper, reported on Tuesday that Chavez is looking to order Ilyushin jets, diesel-powered submarines, TOR-M1 air defense systems and possibly tanks.

    "We want peace, but we are forced to strengthen our defence," Chavez said upon his arrival.

    Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms trader, declined to comment on any potential deals.

    Venezuela, which spent $4bn on international arms purchases between 2005 and 2007, mostly from Russia and China, has a defence budget of $2.6bn, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

    The US stopped supplying arms to Venezuela in 2006.

    Commenting on Chavez's visit, Gonzalo R Gallegos, a spokesman from the US state department, said: "We're not here to tell them what they should or shouldn't do, but I think it's clear that Hugo Chavez has his government to lead, he'll make the decisions he needs to make.

    "However, he has other situations at home that he may want to pay more close attention to."

    Joint bank

    Alexis Navarro, Venezuela's ambassador to Moscow, said Chavez also wants to discuss the possibility of creating a joint bank with Russia.

    The two sides are also expected to discuss three energy deals involving Russian companies Gazprom, Lukoil, TNK-BP and Venezuela's state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the Kremlin said in a statement.

    Lukoil is currently helping Venezuela quantify heavy crude oil deposits in its Orinoco River basin, one of the world's largest petroleum deposits.

    Gazprom has two natural gas exploration and production licenses in Venezuela.

    Commercial trade between Venezuela and Russia reached $1.1bn last year, almost double the $517m in trade during 2006, according to statistics cited by Venezuela's state-run news agency.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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