July 27, 2006

Chavez seeks $3 bln Russian arms deal

By Aleksandras Budrys

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez slammed
the United States as the "biggest threat" to the world on
Thursday, as he sought up to $3 billion in Russian arms deals
that have provoked Washington's ire.

Chavez, a constant critic of Washington, praised President
Vladimir Putin for defying a U.S. arms blockade and hit out at
Washington for its foreign policy.

"The biggest threat which exists in the world is the empire
of the United States," Chavez said while unveiling a bust of
19th-century South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar at a
Moscow library.

"It is a senseless, blind, stupid giant which doesn't
understand the world, doesn't understand human rights, doesn't
understand anything about humanity, culture and consciousness."

Chavez had been expected to sign $1 billion in arms deals
but Vedomosti daily, quoting Sergei Chemezov, head of Russian
state arms trader Rosoboronexport, reported that Venezuela, the
world's No.5 oil exporter, would sign deals worth $3 billion.

On top of an expected deal to buy at least 24 Russian
Sukhoi-30 jets to replace Venezuela's U.S. F-16s, Chavez will
buy helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and possibly even a
submarine, Vedomosti said, citing Russian defense sources.

Putin, after talks with Chavez in the Kremlin, said he
"welcomes the intentions of Venezuela to occupy a place in the
U.N. Security Council as a non-permanent member," Itar-Tass
news agency reported.


"The positions of Russia and Venezuela on the majority of
international problems are close or coincide," said a senior
Kremlin official, who asked not to be identified.

Washington has banned U.S. arms manufacturers from selling
to Chavez. The United States says the populist leader, who
proclaims socialist ideals to unite South America against U.S.
influence, is destabilizing the region.

U.S. officials said they hoped to talk Russia out of the
arms deals. Senior Kremlin officials say they see no reason to
take advice from the United States.

The Kremlin official said Chavez would discuss energy with
Putin. Russia, not an OPEC member, is the world's biggest
natural gas producer and the world's second largest oil

"Venezuela for us is a natural partner," Putin said at the
start of the meeting with Chavez. "I am very happy our
companies are working to find joint solutions in the energy

The deal to buy Sukhoi-30 jets was worth nearly $1.5
billion, when all the necessary armaments and support
technology was included, Vedomosti said, citing a source in the
Russian aerospace industry.

It also cited an unidentified Russian Defense Ministry
source as saying that Venezuela would buy short-range TOR-M1
tactical surface-to-air missiles. Russia's plans to sell Iran
the same missiles have angered Washington.

Chavez is on a world tour that has included meetings with
U.S. foes such as Cuba's Fidel Castro and Belarussian President
Alexander Lukashenko. He will also visit Iran.