Chavez courts anti-US allies


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Chávez seeks to link Putin with anti-US alliance

By Andy Webb-Vidal in Caracas and Neil Buckley in Moscow
Financial Times

Updated: 2:42 a.m. ET July 26, 2006

Aides to Venezuela's mercurial leader Hugo Chávez will have made sure his 
presidential fountain pen was fully loaded before he left Caracas, given the 
number of arms deals he is set to sign in Moscow this week.

Contracts for 30 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, 30 military helicopters, 
100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, a licence to build a Kalashnikov factory in 
Venezuela, and perhaps two or three submarines are all on the agenda during Mr 
Chávez's fourth visit to Russia.

Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defence minister and a possible successor to President 
Vladimir Putin, said last week the fighter and helicopter deal alone was worth 
more than $1bn.

The US has urged Russia to reconsider the sale of fighter jets and helicopters 
to Venezuela. "We have expressed our concern to the Russian government about 
this," Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman, said on Tuesday.

He said the arms purchases exceeded Venezuela's defensive needs and "are not 
helpful in terms of regional stability."

But there is more to Mr Chávez's three-day Russian trip than buying weapons.

His visit to a president he fondly refers to as Mi amigo Putin, is part of a 
world tour taking in several states with questionable commitments to democracy 
and strained relations with the US ­ including Belarus and Iran.

Analysts suggest he is courting countries eyed suspiciously by the Bush 
administration to create a common ideological front against the US. Ivan 
Safranchuk, of the World Security Institute think-tank, says the warm reception 
Mr Chávez can expect in Russia ­ whose own relations with the US have cooled ­ 
demonstrates Moscow's willingness if not to lead, then at least to have links 
with that anti-US group.

"Moscow looks at Mr Chávez as a person with whom we should be careful," he says.
"But still he is a big oil exporter, and that is why he should be our partner; 
he can buy weapons; and he is anti-American, which makes him an even better 

Mr Safranchuk suggests Russia sees its aircraft deal with Venezuela as a 
tit-for-tat for Washington's $3.8bn deal to sell 48 F-16 fighters to Poland in 

Mr Chávez, whose government, like Russia's, is surfing a tidal wave of oil 
revenues, hopes the arms deals with Mr Putin will allow his self-described 
"socialist revolution" to become a military force to be reckoned with in Latin 

The Venezuelan president is expected to meet Mr Putin on Thursday. Mr Chávez 
likes to portray himself as the arch-nemesis of President George W.Bush ­ whom 
he not-so-fondly refers to as "Mr Danger" ­ and Washington's allegedly covert 
plans to invade Venezuela for its huge oil reserves.

He is also expected to solicit Mr Putin's support for Venezuela's campaign to 
win a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council which will 
become available later this year.

Mr Chávez looks set to get the support of Belarus, where he received a hero's 
welcome on Monday and he discovered a "new friendship" with Alexander 
Lukashenko, the hardline president.

Copyright The Financial Times Ltd. All rights reserved.

© 2006

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