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21 Jul, 2008 01:05

America’s foe set to splash out on Russian arms

New deals on selling Russian weapons to Venezuela, as well as a possible joint banking venture, are expected to dominate during talks between Dmitry Medvedev and Hugo Chavez. It’ll be their first face-to-face meeting as their countries respective presiden

Since 2005 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has racked up bills of at least $US 4 BLN worth of Russian weapons, including 100,000 state of the art Kalashnikov assault rifles. Besides, Caracas diligently acquires helicopters, jet fighters and submarines, which makes Venezuela the biggest arms spender in Latin America.

Two years ago, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo on its southern neighbour. Washington says Chavez’s ever growing arsenal could destabilise the region.

But as a former paratrooper, Hugo Chavez fiercely defends his right to shop around.

“North America decided to disarm us, and forbade the other countries to supply us with weapons. All countries have the right to have defence weapons, and Russia has ignored the blockade imposed on us,” Chavez once said.

Trade with Russia got an extra energy boost last year. Venezuela’s Orinoco Basin – the world’s largest known oil reserve – was the major source for it.

Chavez nationalised the whole project, throwing out Western companies and bringing in those from developing economies including Russia.

And it could prove a two-way deal.

“The Venezuelan side is ready now to check the possibility to be involved in Russian business, to buy shares in Russian companies,” says Vladimir Semago, an expert on economic cooperation between Russia and Venezuela.

Chavez is hoping to build new bridges with his old partner. Last year he called former President Putin his brother, and with a new leader in the Kremlin, he’ll be laying on the Latin charm to keep up the good work.