September 25, 2008
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez plans to deepen military ties with Russia during a visit that highlights the shared animosity toward the United States of the two energy-exporting nations.
Chavez, a long-time foe of Washington, was beginning talks with Kremlin leaders on Thursday, just a week after Russian strategic nuclear bombers flew to Venezuela.
The show of strength by Moscow marked the first time since the Cold War that Russian bombers had flown such a long-distance mission and coincided with the deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington, to Chavez's delight.
The United States and the European Union are both reliant on oil and gas imports from Venezuela and Russia.
In a second military maneuver, Russian warships are sailing to the Caribbean for joint military exercises with Venezuela.
Russia has made clear recent military exercises are a response to the United States, which last month sent warships to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia.
New arms deals will be the main focus of the discussions, a Kremlin source told Reuters, ahead of Chavez meetings with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday and President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday.
In the past two years 12 arms contracts worth a total of $4.4 billion have been signed by Russia and Venezuela, the Kremlin source said.
Russia has also decided to offer Venezuela a $1 billion credit to buy more arms, he said.
Russian news agencies have said the oil-rich country showed interest in buying Russian submarines, anti-aircraft weapons and military planes.
The Kremlin source said cooperation in energy and mining sectors would also be a major topic during the talks. Russian energy and mining majors such as Gazprom, Lukoil, TNK-BP and Rusal are already operating in Venezuela.
"Cooperation in the energy sector and mining remains the top priority in the economic cooperation," the source said.
The mutual hostility toward the United States has become a key element binding relations between Caracas and Moscow.
Washington headed international condemnation of Russia's military action in the Caucasus, launched to block Georgia's botched attempt to retake the separatist province of South Ossetia by force.
But Chavez -- a frequent critic of the White House -- backed Russia's military action, though he stopped short of following Moscow in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and another Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia.
In a public display of their warm relations, Medvedev will host Chavez on Friday in the Urals city of Orenburg, where the Russian leader will oversee a major military exercise intended to show off Russian armed forces.
It was not clear whether Chavez would attend the military exercise during his brief visit to the city.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)