Venezuelas Chavez seeks Russian weapons, affirms anti-US front

Jul 22 | Updated: Jul 23 2008, 05:59am hrs
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reaffirmed ties with Russia forged on shared rivalry with the US as he shopped for air defense systems, submarines and other weaponry. "I am sure your election will become a guarantee of the stability of our plans,'' Chavez told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday at a meeting outside Moscow in comments broadcast on state television. The Russian leader took over as president in May.

Russia has already sold billions of dollars of weapons to the oil-rich Latin American nation, its closest ally in the region. Chavez also plans to visit Belarus, a country allied to Russia that the US considers a dictatorship.

Chavez will order as much as $2 billion worth of weapons, according to Russian media reports, including diesel subs and up to 20 Tor-M1 air-defense systems. He is also seeking to buy Mi- 28 combat helicopters and airplanes made by Ilyushin Co., state broadcaster Vesti-24 said.

OAO Gazprom, OAO Lukoil and TNK-BP also today signed agreements with Venezuelan energy companies on joint exploration of oil fields in Venezuela in the presence of Medvedev and Chavez, Interfax reported. "Contacts between Russia and Venezuela have become not only stable but also dynamic,'' Medvedev told Chavez. "Our relations are becoming one of the key regional security factors.''

Chavez, who is also today due to meet Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Medvedev's predecessor as president, has bought more than $4.4 billion of Russian arms since 2003. He says the hardware, including jets and submarines, is needed to counter a military threat from the US and its main regional ally, Colombia.

Russia last year announced plans to build two factories to make Kalashnikov assault rifles in Venezuela.

Latin American countries have gone on a military spending spree in recent years as their governments collect record income from commodities, including Venezuela's oil windfall. Regional arms spending jumped 55 % over four years to $38.4 billion in 2007, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.