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Chavez Recognizes South Ossetia, Abkhazia As Independent


Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez addresses students at Moscow's Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University in Moscow.
MOSCOW -- On a visit to Moscow, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says Caracas plans to immediately recognize Georgia's pro-Russia separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states.

Chavez told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a visit to the Kremlin that his country would consider the two regions -- considered by most of the world as part of Georgia -- sovereign states "from today," Russian news agencies reported.

Russia recognized the two rebel regions as independent in the wake of its war last year with Georgia, but most of the world condemned the move and considers them part of Georgian territory.

Only Nicaragua had previously joined Moscow in recognizing them as independent.

Earlier, Chavez praised Russian leader Vladimir Putin for standing up to the United States, on a visit that the Kremlin said will focus on major energy and military agreements.

Cooperation between Russia, the world's No. 2 oil exporter, and OPEC member Venezuela has been dismissed by the United States as mostly talk but is watched with concern by Colombia, which has stormy ties with its Latin American neighbor.

Chavez began his visit with a two-and-a-half hour speech to Moscow students in which he berated the United States for seeking to control the world with a "terrorist" empire.

"The United States wants to dominate the entire world...The empire of the Yanks will fall this century and I am not talking about the end of the century but in the next decades," Chavez told about 1,000 students.

"That is why it is so important that Russia is getting up from its knees -- this is the great inheritance from Putin," he said in a speech which feted Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

Chavez was greeted warmly by students of the Patrice Lumumba Peoples' Friendship University, though scores left early to watch a World Cup soccer qualifier between Russia and Wales.

The Kremlin, which under Putin's presidency from 2000 to 2008 frequently clashed with Washington, has previously sought to distance itself from Chavez's fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric.

The Kremlin said talks with President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin, who now serves as prime minister, would focus on widening military and energy cooperation.

"About 10 agreements which embrace the fuel and energy sector, military technical cooperation, and finance have been prepared," said Kremlin foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko.

Arms, Energy

Chavez, a former soldier who led an abortive 1990s coup before later winning an election, has purchased more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms to rearm the Venezuelan Army, including fighters and thousands of Kalashnikovs.

The Kremlin said no major arms deals were expected during the visit but that Russia could lend Venezuela money to buy its military equipment.

Chavez has said he wants to buy dozens of Russian tanks to counter a planned increase in U.S. military cooperation with Venezuela's Andean neighbor Colombia.

Venezuela and Colombia came close to war last year and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has accused Chavez of supporting FARC Marxist rebels fighting Bogota.

Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian companies were expected to present a joint venture to develop a block in the Orinoco oil belt this month.

"An agreement between the Russian oil consortium and PDVSA will be signed in the near future," Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told reporters in Moscow. "The creation of a joint venture is yet to be approved by Venezuela's parliament."

It was unclear if a formal contact to jointly develop the Junin 6 block, with estimated production capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, would be signed during the visit.

The Russian consortium includes Rosneft, Gazprom, Lukoil, TNK-BP, and Surgutneftegaz. It also intends to bid for blocks in the Carabobo project.

Compiled from agency reports