Venezuela Needs Russia for Protection, Chavez Says
July 22, 2008 - 8:01 AMVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Tuesday called for a strategic alliance with Russia to protect the South American country from the United States.
Chavez is expected to reach a number of agreements for purchasing military hardware while in Russia, according to Russian news media reports. One newspaper reported that the deals could be worth up to $2 billion.
"That way we can guarantee Venezuela's sovereignty, which is now threatened by the United States," Chavez was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying.
While welcoming Chavez at his castle resort in the Moscow region, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russian-Venezuelan relations "are one of the key factors of security in the (South American) region."
Medvedev and Chavez are meeting for the first time since Medvedev became president in May. Chavez also will meet with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Russian military and business leaders, Chavez spokesman Tomas Ramirez said.
Russia's daily Kommersant reported Tuesday that Chavez is looking to order up to $2 billion worth of Ilyushin jets, diesel-powered submarines, TOR-M1 air defense systems and possibly tanks.
Rosoboronexport, Russia's state-owned arms trader, declined to comment on potential deals.
"We want peace, but we are forced to strengthen our defense," Chavez said when asked about the potential deals.
Venezuela, which spent $4 billion on international arms purchases between 2005 and 2007, mostly from Russia and China, has a defense budget of $2.6 billion, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The U.S. stopped supplying arms to Venezuela in 2006.
Chavez also wants to discuss the possibility of creating a joint bank, according to Alexis Navarro, Venezuela's ambassador to Moscow.
In addition, the two sides are expected to discuss three energy deals involving three Russian companies -- Gazprom, Lukoil, and TNK-BP -- and Venezuela's state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA, the Kremlin said.
Lukoil is already helping Venezuela quantify heavy crude oil deposits in its Orinoco River basin -- one of the world's largest petroleum deposits. Russia's Gazprom has two natural gas exploration and production licenses in Venezuela.
Commercial trade between Venezuela and Russia reached $1.1 billion last year, up more than 200 percent from the $517 million in trade during 2006, according to statistics cited by Venezuela's state-run news agency.
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