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    Russia may invest billions of dollars in Venezuela - Putin

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    Following a meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the interest of Russian companies in their Venezuelan partners was growing. "The potential private investment of Russian companies may reach hundreds of millions, billions of dollars," he said.

    MOSCOW, July 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russian private business may invest billions of dollars in Venezuela with the government's support, the president said Thursday.

    Following a meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin said the interest of Russian companies in their Venezuelan partners was growing.

    "The potential private investment of Russian companies may reach hundreds of millions, billions of dollars," he said.

    Putin said the oil and gas sector was the most promising area of cooperation: "I'm delighted to say that our leading companies are making their first steps on the Venezuelan market."

    Russia's top companies, particularly Gazprom, are active on the Venezuelan market after the energy giant won a Phase A tender for the Rafael Urdaneta natural gas project and received licenses for prospecting and development of gas fields in the Bay of Venezuela with estimated capacity of 100 billion cubic meters in August 2005.

    The left-wing Venezuelan leader, who is on the final day of his visit to Russia, said his country possessed some of the world's largest gas reserves. He also said he hoped for Russia's aid in the construction of a $20-billion natural gas pipeline to connect Venezuela with the Caribbean cost, and added that his country needed 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) of pipes for the project.

    "Russia's support in the construction of a major pipeline is highly important to us," he said.

    Before the meeting with Putin, Chavez said he expected to sign an agreement on the construction of a pipe-making plant in his country.

    Putin said other potential areas of partnership included finance and investment, machine-building, mining industry, metals, chemical, transportation sectors, and military and technical cooperation.

    Russia and Venezuela have signed military contracts worth over $3 billion in the past eighteen months, state-controlled arms exporter Rosoboronexport earlier on Thursday. Under one contract, Russia is to supply 24 planes and 53 helicopters to Venezuela.

    Russia has already delivered to Venezuela over 30,000 AK-103 automatic rifles in late June under a contract for the supply of 100,000 automatic rifles. And the two countries signed $1-billion contracts on supplies of military planes and helicopters to Venezuela earlier in the month.

    The deal attracted the ire of Washington, which says Venezuela's regime posed a security threat to the region.

    Putin said cooperation between Russia and Venezuela was not aimed against any other countries.

    "Our interaction seeks to develop economies of the two countries and raise living standards of our people," he said.

    The president added that Russia would be a reliable partner for Venezuela, just like it was for any other partner on the international arena.

    Putin said he and the South American state's leader had also discussed ways of consolidating the legal base of bilateral cooperation.

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