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Chavez Seeks Arms and Energy Deal with Moscow

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in Moscow on a two-day trip pursuing arms and energy deals with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri Medvedev. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports that U.S. interests may be affected by closer ties between Moscow and Caracas.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev welcomed his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez with warm words about trade and cultural ties, saying bilateral cooperation between their two countries helps Caracas maintain regional stability.

Mr. Medvedev says in recent times contacts between Russian and Venezuela have become very stable and dynamic. The Kremlin leader says expanded trade, as well as improved humanitarian and cultural relations are among the signs of improved ties between the two countries.

Mr. Chavez said upon arrival in the Russian capital that a strategic energy and arms alliance between Moscow and Caracas will guarantee the sovereignty of Venezuela, which he claims is threatened by the United States.

The Venezuelan leader is expected to sign a number of arms contracts for the purchase of weapons that include Russian tanks and submarines.

In remarks to VOA, independent Russian political observer Alexander Konovalov said the quantities and types of arms that Mr. Chavez is seeking could help destabilize parts of Latin America.

Konovalov notes that leaders of Colombia, for example, who are not favorably inclined toward the Chavez regime and vice versa, are likely to wonder why Venezuela is buying 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles. The analyst also questions why Caracas is acquiring three diesel submarines and who Mr. Chavez would want to sink, adding that continued enthusiasm for submarine purchases will quickly waste Venezuela's oil profits and economic potential.

Venezuela and Russia are both oil exporters. Konovalov says an agreement to help Caracas develop its oil fields will help Russia.

The analyst says there is no doubt a deal with Mr. Chavez will bring economic and political benefits, because Russians will break into a new market and assume an important position right under the nose of the United States. Konovalov says any serious businessperson dreams of capturing a market that was long considered the U.S. backyard. Now, he adds, they can not only dream, but can actually enter that market.

Hugo Chavez also passed along greetings to Mr. Medvedev from former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

On Monday, the Izvestia newspaper reported that Russia may resume flights of long-distance air force bombers to Cuba in response to U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Central Europe.

But Alexander Konovalov dismisses the report as unrealistic, noting that Cuba does not have facilities to fuel Russian bombers, the planes themselves are old, and the fleet is small. He notes that the civilian version of one of the bombers mentioned, the propeller driven TU-95, was used to by former Soviet Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev to fly to Cuba in the early 1960s.