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    Venezuela hails 'strategic partnership' with Russia

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    Relations between Venezuela and Russia have developed into a strategic partnership, the country's vice president said Friday.

    MOSCOW, June 27 (RIA Novosti) - Relations between Venezuela and Russia have developed into a strategic partnership, the country's vice president said Friday.

    Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizales was in Moscow at the end of a three-day official visit during which he met with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov and other government officials.

    "Russia has become our trusted partner and proved it at various international meetings and through cooperative efforts in various international organizations," Carrizales told a news conference in Moscow.

    "I would say relations between our countries are strategic," he said. "We share exceptionally close ties."

    The two countries have been prioritizing cooperation in the energy and mining sectors. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom, the country's largest independent oil producer LUKoil, Russian-British joint oil venture TNK-BP, aluminum giant RusAl and a number of other companies are active in the Venezuelan market.

    Oil-rich Venezuela is also a major purchaser of Russian weapons and hardware. In 2005-2006, Venezuela ordered weaponry from Russia worth $3.4 billion, including 24 Su-30MK2V Flanker fighters, Tor-M1 air defense missile systems, Mi-17B multi-role helicopters, Mi-35 Hind E attack helicopters and Mi-26 Halo heavy transport helicopters.

    However, Carrizales said military-technical cooperation between the two countries was not a priority, and Venezuela used military equipment purchased in Russia not only for defense but also to fight drug-trafficking and to deal with consequences of natural disasters.

    He dismissed allegations made by some Western politicians and analysts that Venezuela had entered an arms race in pursuit of aggressive goals.

    "We have a sovereign right to ensure the defense of our country and to strengthen our national security. But we are not an aggressor nation," he said.

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