Venezuela’s Chavez to sign arms deals in Moscow

ASD210234.jpgMOSCOW (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a fire-brand Socialist, will sign arms and energy deals during a visit to Moscow which started on Tuesday, moves likely to further strain ties between Russia and the United States.

Chavez will use meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to enhance his image as a leading critic of the United States, which views him as an adversary.

“I have great hopes we will be able to continue building our strategic alliance,” Chavez told journalists after landing in Moscow. “The deals will guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela which is being threatened by the United States.”

Rows over U.S. plans to station elements of a missile shield in Europe and NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia have damaged ties between Moscow and Washington in recent years.

Chavez wants to rearm the Venezuelan army with Russian missiles, tanks and submarines and has bought billions of dollars worth of fighter jets, helicopters and rifles.

Unnamed sources within Russia’s arms manufacturing unit told Kommersant daily Chavez had not decided which weapons to buy.

Chavez accuses Washington of planning a 2002 coup against him while the United States accuses him of seeking out its enemies — such as Iran and Cuba — as allies.

“This is my first visit to President Medvedev,” Chavez said. “We will get acquainted because a very wise, personal diplomacy is being carried out.”

Medvedev took over from Putin as Russia’s president in May.

Russian companies such as Gazprom, LUKOIL and its state railway company want to develop business interests in Venezuela although last month LUKOIL’s chief complained of delays at its oil production unit in Venezuela.

LUKOIL, Russia’s second largest oil firm, is exploring a potentially lucrative oil block in Venezuela and is considering refinery options. Russian controlled gold miner Rusoro also wants to expand its operations in the country.

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