Venezuelan, Russian president pledge to boost ties amid tensions with US

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on a two-day Russian tour Friday as the countries expand military ties and close ranks in opposition to the United States, reported dpa.

Going into talks with Medvedev, Chavez reiterated his "full and firm" support for Russia in its war with Georgia last month, which the US roundly condemned.

Medvedev and Chavez were meeting in the southern Russian city of Orenburg, near the border with Kazakhstan, where the Russian president is touring the regions.

"We meet in Orenburg, but this will not stop us from accomplishing some good deeds. We will sign a number of agreements to strengthen our cooperation," Medvedev was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying.

Chavez was welcomed in Moscow late Thursday on his second trip in as many months by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with an offer to hike arms sales to Venezuela and share nuclear energy expertise.

The Venezuelan leader's visit comes as four Russian warships sailed to Venezuela for joint military exercises in the Caribbean. Two Russian Tu-160 nuclear bombers flew sorties from a base in Venezuela last week.

Russia's rapprochement with fiery US critic Chavez looks set to exacerbate an already tense security standoff with Washington over Russia's war with US ally Georgia last month.

"Latin America is becoming a noticeable link in the chain of the multi-polar world that is forming," Putin said ahead of talks with Chavez at his country residence. "We will pay more and more mind to this vector of our economic and foreign policy."

A Kremlin official, who spoke on the usual condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Russia would loan 1 billion dollars to Caracas for future weapons purchases.

Russia has sealed weapons contracts with Venezuela worth more than 4.4 billion dollars from 2005, the official said.

Russian newspapers reported that Venezuela sought more Sukhoi fighter jets, Kalashnikov assault rifles and missile defence systems to modernize its military.

Putin also said that Russia was "ready to look at the possibility of cooperation in the sphere of nuclear energy." He didn't give further details.

Moscow has butted heads with Washington in its effort to market its nuclear power expertise since the fall of the Soviet Union. Disagreements this week forced the cancellation of UN talks on more sanctions on Iran for its nuclear energy programme, developed in cooperation with Russia.

Both leaders have said their partnership aims to decrease US influence.

In an interview with Russia's Vesti-24 television station Chavez said on Sunday that "Latin America needs friends like Russia now" to rid itself of "imperial domination."

Popular Russian daily Moskovsky Kommsomolets summed up the growing relations between both states as "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," and state mouthpiece Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote Friday that anti-Americanism was the "catalyst" for warming relations.

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