June 30, 2007
MOSCOW, June 29 -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez called on Russian business leaders Friday to boost their investment in his country, criticizing U.S. companies as "vampires" and inviting Russians to help develop a massive oil deposit.
Chávez arrived 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 discussed late Thursday when he met with Chávez.
Earlier Friday, 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 the RIA Novosti news agency. He said there were also talks on supplies of military equipment for ground and air forces.
Venezuela already has purchased about $3 billion worth of arms from Russia, including 53 military helicopters, 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles and 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets. The United States has voiced concern about its military spending.
Chávez 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.
"We are very satisfied with the presence of Russian companies in our oil industry and will do our best to develop this cooperation further," he said in an address to Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Chávez said that at dinner Thursday night he and Putin agreed to create a fund to support joint projects. With Russia's help, Venezuela is ready to build four oil refineries and plans 13 more, 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. petroleum giants Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips refused to sign deals this week to keep pumping heavy oil in the basin under tougher terms, signaling their departure from the deposit as Chávez tightens state control over the oil industry.
Chevron, Britain's BP, France's Total and Norway's Statoil accepted the terms, taking new minority stakes.
Chávez, who has called President Bush a devil, a donkey and a drunkard, again lambasted the United States and its "imperialist" policies. "U.S. companies act like Count Dracula, like vampires bleeding our country dry," he said.
Later Friday, Chávez traveled to Belarus for meetings and possible talks about an air defense system equipped with radar and antiaircraft missiles.