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Chavez Secures Nuclear, Arms Promises During Russia Visit

  • RFE/RL

Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Hugo Chavez in Orenburg.

Dmitry Medvedev (left) meets with Hugo Chavez in Orenburg.

Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez is continuing his Russia visit with talks with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Chavez's visit, which will see new agreements on a range of bilateral energy and military projects, is sure to irritate Washington, whose relations with Moscow and Caracas are far from favorable.

Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- who was the first to meet with the Venezuelan leader, for talks outside Moscow on September 25 -- have a lot in common.

Both have a flair for one-liners, as evidenced by Chavez's, "Thank you very much for inviting me to Moscow again, before the winter."

And both, as Putin demonstrated, relish the chance to make pointed gestures.

"We are ready to consider the possibility of cooperation in using nuclear energy for peaceful means," Putin announced.

Anti-American Sentiment

Moscow's offer to share its nuclear know-how with Venezuela comes just days after it blocked international talks on Iran's controversial nuclear program, which also relies on Russian technology.

The notion of another deeply anti-American country joining the ranks of nuclearized nations with Russia's help is certain to anger the United States -- a fact which Moscow and Caracas appear keen to exploit.

Chavez, a long-standing opponent of the United States, has referred to President George W. Bush as "the devil" and this month expelled the U.S. ambassador to Caracas after another Latin American country, Bolivia, evicted its U.S. envoy.

Moscow, whose own ties with Washington have dropped to a new low following its war in Georgia and the arrival of U.S. warships in the Black Sea, has stepped up its partnership with Chavez.

This month, it sent two long-range bombers and a flotilla of its own warships to Venezuela for military exercises. It is the first Russian naval deployment to the Caribbean since the Cold War -- another gesture that will not be lost on the United States.

Chavez has also been an active consumer of Russian armaments. Venezuela has spent more than $4.4 billion since 2005 on Russian arms, including fighter jets, helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

As part of his latest Russian visit, Chavez secured the promise of a $1 billion credit from Russia for the purchase of Russian antiaircraft systems, armored personnel carriers, and more combat aircraft.

The trip -- Chavez's third in just over a year -- may also see a deal signed on forming a massive oil consortium linking Venezuela's state energy company PDVSA with Gazprom and several major Russian oil companies.

'New Multipolar World'

The agreements are part of a broader strategy by Russia and Venezuela to forge a new alliance of nations to counter U.S. dominance. Putin and Chavez -- whose tour also includes stops in Cuba, China, and France -- spoke frequently of a "new multipolar world" in their talks.

Medvedev, meeting Chavez in the Ural Mountains city of Orenburg, continued the spirit of camaraderie, calling the Venezuelan leader "dear Hugo" and praising new steps to "strengthen our cooperation" as quickly as possible.

"The dynamic of our relations shows how strong the basis of our relations is and how fast and generally successfully our contacts are developing in the most diverse areas," Medvedev said.

Medvedev and Chavez are expected to finish the day by observing Russian military exercises in the Orenburg region. Russian television has described the exercises, which involve warplanes and armored vehicles, as the largest since the Soviet era.

(with wire service reports)
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