Chavez clinches energy, nuclear deals on Russia visit

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Venezuela's maverick President Hugo Chavez clinched a host of deals Friday to boost a burgeoning relationship with Russia, including an accord to build the first nuclear power plant in his country.

As well as the accord for Russia to build and operate the key OPEC member's first nuclear power station, Chavez's ninth visit to Moscow saw big deals with Russia for the purchase of energy assets.

The flamboyant leader launched one of his customary tirades against the West after his talks in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev but also surprised his Russian counterpart by producing a bag of Venezuelan gifts.

"The changes in relations in the economic sector have been tectonic and involve all areas of our mutual interests," Medvedev said alongside the Venezuelan leader.

The nuclear agreement was signed by the head of Russia's atomic energy agency Sergei Kiriyenko and built on a plan agreed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Chavez during a visit to Caracas in April this year.

Further details were not given about the timing or cost of the construction of the station, but Medvedev said diversifying energy sources was a priority even for a energy-rich country like Venezuela.

"We want our partner to have the full range of options in energy and have energy independence and the means to develop," Medvedev said.

"Even a country rich in oil and gas like Venezuela needs new sources of energy," he added.

Kiriyenko told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the nuclear plant could be built "perhaps in 10 years and perhaps earlier."

Chavez said his country was too reliant on oil and had high levels of poverty despite "living in an ocean of oil." He blamed "imperialism" for imposing this system on the country.

"All through the 20th century, Venezuela looked like a democracy but in reality was a colony. But now we have returned to our independence and we are here in Moscow," he said.

Chavez said Russia was playing a vital role in helping developing countries in South America and Africa.

"Russia needs to continue in this direction, like the great nation it is, to build a new world," Chevez added. "I thank you, Vladimir. I thank you, Dmitry!" he said, referring to Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Chavez also did not shy away from lavishing praise on the Soviet Union, declaring: "The Soviet Union left a great legacy, and you are all children of the Soviet Union."

The Russian president appeared taken aback when Chavez handed him a goody bag of Venezuelan treats that he produced from under the table, including three chocolate bars, banana preserves and a box of cocoa powder.

At a ceremony in the Kremlin, Russian state oil giant Rosneft signed an agreement with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to acquire its 50-percent stake in German refining firm Ruhr Oel GmbH for 1.6 billion dollars.

The agreement will give Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil firm, a key foothold in the European market. Ruhr Oel GmbH was until now a joint venture with British energy firm BP.

The Russian and Venezuelan energy ministries also signed a memorandum of understanding supporting a plan for TNK-BP to acquire BP's assets in Venezuela.

TNK-BP is a joint venture partly owned by British energy giant BP. BP is considering selling a range of assets to finance its losses after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Chavez's trip to Russia is part of a major international tour aimed at strengthening trade ties with several countries in eastern Europe and the Middle East, including Iran and Libya.

Venezuela is one of the few countries to have backed Russia in recognising the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states following a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.

© 2010 AFP

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