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Russian Warships Arriving In Venezuela, Chavez Says

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez

CARACAS (Reuters) -- A fleet of Russian warships have begun arriving in Venezuela to conduct joint naval exercises in the Caribbean, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said.

The exercises, which are being closely watched by the United States, coincide with the visit of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, who is due in Venezuela on November 25.

His visit, part of a South American tour that includes Brazil and Cuba, comes as falling crude prices are worrying energy-producing countries like Russia and Venezuela.

OPEC-member Venezuela is Russia's first firm ally in the Americas since the Cold War, and Moscow sees ties to Chavez as a way to answer U.S. influence close to its borders in the Caucasus.

Chavez said the naval exercises were not meant to anger Washington, his main oil client and a frequent target of his fiery speeches.

"There is no kind of provocation, just relationship building and most importantly the birth of a pluri-polar world," Chavez said late on November 24.

Chavez welcomes a heavyweight partner like Russia in his bid to lessen U.S. dominance in global politics and trade.

The U.S. government has dismissed the importance of Medvedev's trip to Venezuela, and U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack derided the Russian Navy visit by wondering if the ships were "accompanied by tugboats."

There is no doubt who is the dominant military and economic power in the region, he said.

"We'll watch it closely, but I don't think a few Russian ships in the Caribbean with the Venezuelans is really going to raise anybody's eyebrows," he said.