Los Angeles Times
June 29, 2007
MINSK, Belarus -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called for a strategic partnership with Belarus Friday, calling his Belarusian counterpart a "brother-in-arms" and lamenting the pressure he said the United States was putting on Minsk and Caracas.
Chavez traveled to Belarus to meet with President Alexander Lukashenko after wrapping up two days of meetings in Moscow, where Russian media speculated that Chavez was trying to arrange a major new purchase of Russian weaponry.
In Minsk, Chavez told Lukashenko that economic and military ties between the two countries were developing, and he referred to the United States as "the Empire."
"There are few nations in the world that are put under as strong pressure from the Empire as Belarus," Chavez said. He called on Lukashenko to "develop relations in the form of a union and a strategic alliance.
"The enemy's forces are trying to turn the world into a unipolar world. We must overcome many obstacles from these forces. The Empire that has called us dictatorships itself wants to create a world dictatorship," he said.
Chavez also joked about what he said were the many successes the two countries had seen since his last visit to Belarus in 2006.
"If in one year we were able to do so much, then what will be able to do in the 20 years that we will be in power?" Chavez asked.
"Don't scare the Americans," Lukashenko responded, smiling.
Earlier, during meetings in Moscow with Russian lawmakers Chavez reportedly confirmed that his country would be negotiating with Russia about purchasing submarines. He suggested that the United States had threatened Venezuela and was categorically opposed to Venezuela's buying submarines, according to Russian news agencies.
"We have a big area of water in the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and in as much that (America) is constantly threatening us, we need to defend our revolution," Chavez was quoted as saying by ITAR-Tass.
Chavez arrived in Moscow Wednesday amid widespread speculation that he wanted to sign a major arms deal, and President Vladimir Putin said the weapons trade was among the topics of talks late Thursday when he met with Chavez.
Earlier, an official with the Russian arms sales monopoly Rosoboronexport said the sides were in talks on the possible purchase of five Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines, according to a news report.
"We are conducting these talks, and I hope that this agreement is possible," Innokenty Naletov was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti. He said there were also talks on supplies of military equipment for ground and air forces.
Caracas already has purchased some $3 billion worth of arms from Russia, including 53 military helicopters, 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets and other weapons. The United States has voiced concern about Venezuela's military spending.
In Moscow, Chavez told Russian business leaders that he expects development of a "road map" that will boost and diversify Russian-Venezuelan business ties -- especially in the energy sector, including construction of a natural gas pipeline and oil refineries.
He said that at dinner Thursday night with Putin the two men agreed to create a fund to support joint projects. With Russia's help, Venezuela is ready to build four oil refineries and plans another 13, he said.
He also invited Russian oil companies to help develop the Orinoco River basin, recognized as the world's single-largest known oil deposit, potentially holding 1.2 trillion barrels of extra-heavy crude.
U.S. giants Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips refused to sign deals this week to keep pumping heavy oil under tougher terms in the basin, signaling their departure from the deposit as Chavez tightens state control over the oil industry.
Other major oil companies Chevron Corp., Britain's BP PLC, France's Total SA and Norway's Statoil ASA accepted the terms, taking new minority stakes.
Chavez, who has called U.S. President George W. Bush a devil, a donkey and a drunkard, again lambasted the U.S. and its "imperialist" policies.
"U.S. companies act like Count Dracula, like vampires bleeding our country dry," he said.
Chavez urged Russian companies to invest in construction of a 5,000-mile natural gas pipeline to Argentina, retrofitting Venezuela's dilapidated seaports, and developing its gold mining and chemical industries.
"For the Americas, Venezuela is like Russia for Europe and Asia -- a source of oil and natural gas," he said.
Both Venezuela and Russia have revisited contracts signed in the 1990s with major oil companies, and slapped back-tax claims on private companies.