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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chavez Likely to Get Weapons, Not Support

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez looks set to put pen to paper on a number of major arms deals during an official visit to Moscow on Tuesday but is unlikely to gain Kremlin support for his trademark attacks on the United States.

Flush with record oil revenues, Venezuela has become a regular buyer of Russian arms, and any new deals would further strengthen ties between the two countries and irk the United States, which stopped selling weaponry to the Latin American country in 2006.

Chavez will hold separate meetings with President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. While in Moscow, the Venezuelan delegation will discuss setting up joint banking and investment funds and hold talks with leading Russian firms keen to expand their operations in the country.

A limited number of reporters will be accredited to cover the meeting between Medvedev and Chavez, a Kremlin spokesman said, citing limited space.

Meeting an outspoken leftist leader whom even Kremlin officials describe off the record as "controversial" may not sit well with the liberal image of Medvedev, whose administration is eager to keep the visit low-key.

"Venezuela is quite an important partner for Russia in South America," Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday. "We have quite ambitious plans for working on the Venezuelan market."

The Russian visit is the first leg of a European tour that will see Chavez head to Minsk for talks with his Belarussian counterpart, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the United States has branded Europe's last dictator.

Originally penciled in for Monday evening, Chavez's arrival was postponed without explanation until Tuesday, Interfax reported, citing an unnamed diplomatic source in Moscow.

During his time in the country, Chavez will order more than $1 billion worth of Russian arms, including up to 20 Tor-M1 missile-defense systems and three Varshavyanka diesel submarines, Interfax reported.

"All questions have already been agreed on for a number of arms contracts, and it's entirely possible that their signing will coincide with Chavez's arrival in Moscow," an unnamed defense industry source said, Interfax reported.

Venezuela is also eyeing up a deal for another six non-nuclear submarines, several dozen military boats and Ilyushin reconnaissance aircraft, the source said. Contracts will also be signed to set up technical centers to service Russian equipment already in Venezuela, he said.

Ahead of the trip, Chavez said he wanted to buy Russian tanks, describing them as "very modern and fast," in an interview with Itar-Tass in Caracas. National media have reported that Russia could offer Venezuela up to $800 million to fund any potential deals.

In May, Kommersant reported that the arms deals could reach $2 billion and include Mi-28 combat helicopters and Ilyushin airplanes. An order has been received for the helicopters and delivery would start in the second half of 2009, Interfax reported.

A spokesman for Russian Technologies, the parent company of state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, refused to comment on the specifics of any deals Monday. He said senior company officials would most likely attend the talks.

Officials at the Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation declined to immediately comment and asked for questions to be sent by fax.

The Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow did not comment on any possible arms deals.

Since 2003, Venezuela has bought about $4.4 billion of military hardware from Russia, making it the third-biggest foreign buyer of Russian arms worldwide. The growing trade with Latin America comes as some of Russia's traditional clients, such as India, express worries over the quality of Russian deliveries. Algeria returned 15 MiG jets on technical grounds earlier this year.

Russia has delivered 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles to Venezuela and last year agreed to build two plants producing the assault rifles under license in the country. A total of 24 Sukhoi fighter jets and about 50 attack helicopters are also on their way to Venezuela.

Despite obvious political undercurrents, Venezuela has become an increasingly important business partner for the Russian arms industry, said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. Russia is eager to help countries that share its policy of a multipolar world, but is not out to arm enemies of the United States, Pukhov said.

The Venezuelan armed forces are undergoing a massive rearmament program, funded by record oil revenues, that is set for completion by 2012. Chavez claims that new weaponry is needed to stave off a potential attack from the United States or neighboring Colombia, which has received billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance over the past few years.

In March, Chavez ordered Venezuelan troops up to the border with Colombia after Colombia launched a strike against a FARC rebel base inside Ecuador. Colombia has accused Venezuela of arming the leftist FARC rebels, a claim that Chavez has dismissed.

Representatives at both LUKoil and embattled Russian-British joint venture TNK-BP will also hold meetings with the Venezuelan delegation, Interfax reported, citing unnamed sources inside the companies. Both companies have been involved in exploratory work and evaluation in Venezuela.

LUKoil spokesman Dmitry Dolgov said Monday that "he could not rule out" the possibility that Chavez will meet with company officials. The company has done exploratory work in Venezuela, he said.

"We want to continue and develop our work in the country," Dolgov said.

Chavez will also meet with Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Itar-Tass reported, citing an unnamed "informed" source.

Chavez's visit comes soon after the inauguration of Dmitry Medvedev as president. During Chavez's last trip to Russia in June 2007, then-President Vladimir Putin refused to endorse some of Chavez's more radical verbal attacks on the United States.

While Putin and Chavez addressed a gaggle of reporters during their meeting in 2006, their 2007 meeting in Moscow was not widely publicized ahead of Putin's scheduled meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Chavez still used an opportunity to attack Bush at the opening ceremonies for a Latin American cultural center at Moscow's Library of Foreign Literature during his visit last year. A spokeswoman for the Venezuelan Embassy in Moscow said she was not aware of any cultural events scheduled during Chavez's visit this time.

Staff Writer Anna Smolchenko contributed to this report.