Chavez shopping for arms and energy deals in Moscow

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in Russia on a shopping spree for weapons and new energy deals. On Thursday he is expected to meet President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

It’s expected that at least 10 mutually-beneficial agreements in the energy and finance sectors, and sales and purchases of military hardware will be signed as a result of Chavez’s eighth visit to Russia.

Military cooperation traditionally connects Moscow and Caracas. Just in recent years, 12 contracts worth about $4.4 billion have been signed between the two states. Russia will supply arms to Venezuela, including fighter jets, helicopters and Kalashnikov assault rifles. Chavez says it’s forward protection and the ability to act as a deterrent to what he calls the “ever expanding Yankee military might.”

The US is continuing to expand and construct new military bases in neighboring Colombia, which unnerves Chavez. In response, he recently announced plans to buy dozens Russian tanks.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, who heads the Russian part of the bilateral intergovernmental commission, said "military-technical cooperation is of great importance for the Russian economy, since it helps to award orders to national enterprises".

"Under conditions of the world economic crisis, we are duty-bound to think of supporting our enterprises," he added.

The negotiators are also expected to talk about financing joint projects, such as the development of the oil block Hunin-6 in the Orinoco basin, where 400,000 barrels of crude are planned to be recovered daily.

Cooperation in the sphere of peaceful nuclear technology, as well as in the car industry, is also on the agenda.

According to Nikolas Kozloff – an author and expert on Latin America – it’s the Venezuelan leader's oil policy that is one of the reasons why Washington-Caracas relations are strained.

“The US is greatly concerned about its oil exports from Venezuela. Venezuela is the third or fourth largest oil exporter to the US,” he said.

Historically, he said, Venezuela had very warm ties. And it was quite surprising when “this firebrand politician” came to power.

“I think this was one reason why the US was funding the opposition in the head-up to the April 2002 coup against Chavez,” Kozloff said.

“Chavez was pursuing a more nationalistic oil policy and that was perceived as a threat to the US,” he added.