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Venezuelan president arrives in Moscow - 2

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for "strategic" talks on political, economic and defense cooperation.
(Recasts, adds details in paras 6, 8, 9, 11-13)

MOSCOW, July 22 (RIA Novosti) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for "strategic" talks on political, economic and defense cooperation.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will receive Chavez later on Tuesday. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is also expected to meet with the Venezuelan leader.

Upon his arrival in Moscow, Chavez called for Russia and Venezuela to become strategic partners in oil and defense, something he said would "guarantee Venezuela's sovereignty, which is currently being threatened by the United States."

Ahead of his two-day visit, Chavez thanked Moscow for its recent support, including the provision of loans for the modernization of Venezuela's armed forces.

He also pledged to develop further bilateral cooperation with Moscow, saying that

Venezuela would continue to buy Russian military hardware, including combat aircraft and helicopters.

Venezuela has bought over 50 combat helicopters, 24 Su-30MK2 fighters, and 100,000 Ak-103 rifles from Russia. It also holds a license for the production of the aforementioned military hardware. The current contracts are worth about $4 billion.

"I hope we will sign a number of contracts we have been working on over the past few years, including in the energy sphere and on defense cooperation," the Venezuelan leader said.

Moscow plans to start supplying Venezuela with at least ten Mi-28N helicopters in the second half of 2009.

The two countries have also negotiated the delivery of three Russian Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines and at least 20 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems to Caracas. Contracts for these two deals, if signed, may be worth another $1 billion.

The Spanish news agency Efe earlier said the potential acquisition of tanks by Venezuela could be discussed during the talks.

The Venezuelan leader will also hold a meeting with officials from the Il aircraft manufacturer, and defense contracts are also expected to be signed. The Latin American country is interested in purchasing about 20 Il-114 patrol aircraft, some Russian sources said.

In line with the state program for the modernization of the armed forces until 2012, Venezuela is planning to spend about $30 bln in the next four years on the purchase of weaponry abroad.

The deals may see Russia become the main supplier of military equipment to Venezuela. Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington, has focused his foreign policy on bolstering ties with countries outside the U.S. sphere of influence since coming to power nine years ago.

Chavez also plans to discuss the establishment of a Russian-Venezuelan bank to finance joint projects. The Venezuelan government has already made amendments to the law on the Central Bank for the purpose.

The Prensa Latina news agency earlier quoted Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as saying that the Caracas-Moscow partnership was significant for the whole of South America, not just Venezuela.

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