(AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Wednesday that his oil-rich nation will sign major arms deals in Moscow to acquire Russian fighter jets and produce Kalashnikov assault rifles, and he slammed U.S. criticism of the weapons sales.
Chavez said contracts to buy Su-30 jets and set up Kalashnikov rifle and ammunition plants in Venezuela would be signed Thursday in Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported.
"I want to thank President Putin for his firmness in cooperating with increasing Venezuela's defense and security," Chavez said at Moscow's Vnukovo Airport. "We have thwarted the goal of the empire of the United States to disarm Venezuela."
"Those who are launching bombs against entire cities in Iraq this very day, they criticize us because Venezuela is buying defensive weaponry. They have no moral right to criticize," he said, reports Trend.
Chavez, who has become a thorn in Washington's side with his anti-U.S. rhetoric and policies, is to sign a deal worth more than $1 billion for about 30 Su-30 fighter jets and 30 helicopters, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said last week.
The United States underlined its opposition to the sale Tuesday and urged Moscow to reconsider the contracts. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the arms purchases exceeded Venezuela's defensive needs and "are not helpful in terms of regional stability."
Ivanov tersely dismissed the U.S. demands, saying that "re-examining the contracts is absolutely excluded," news agencies reported. The Foreign Ministry had said Monday that Russia's military cooperation with Venezuela was "in strict compliance" with its international obligations.
Chavez, a leftist former army lieutenant colonel who has frequently warned that the United States could invade to seize control of his country's rich oil and natural gas reserves, arrived in Russia on Tuesday for a three-day visit.
He has used surging oil revenues to modernize Venezuela's military, signing multi-billion-dollar defense deals with Russia and Spain. Venezuela earlier agreed to buy 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The Venezuelan president has courted foes and critics of Washington in what he calls an effort to create a global counterbalance to U.S. domination. He has crafted a socialist trade block with Cuba and Bolivia, signed a series of deals with Iran and supported North Korea's right to test fire missiles.
On his way to Russia, Chavez visited neighboring Belarus, where he met with authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who shares his strong anti-U.S. views.
Chavez, who next heads to Qatar, Iran and Mali, is also seeking support for a non-permanent U.N. Security Council seat. The United States is lobbying to block the bid, backing Guatemala instead. The General Assembly will decide the issue in a secret ballot in October.
Chavez had planned to travel to North Korea, but later took it off his itinerary.