Chavez to talk energy, defence in Moscow: Kremlin

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Venezuela's maverick President Hugo Chavez was due to arrive in Moscow on Thursday for two days of talks on energy, defence and finance deals with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

On his ninth visit to Russia, the firebrand leftist leader was due to meet one-to-one with Medvedev on Thursday evening, followed by broader talks on Friday.

Moscow is the first stop for Chavez on a major international tour aimed at strengthening trade ties with several countries in eastern Europe and the Middle East, including Iran and Libya.

Russia called Venezuela a "key partner in the Latin American region" in a statement released by the Kremlin ahead of the visit. "Russian and Venezuelan ties have seen a positive dynamic in recent years," it said.

In a sign of growing ties, Chavez visited Moscow in September last year, while Medvedev flew to Venezuela in late 2008 during joint naval exercises by the countries' militaries.

Chavez's latest official visit came after he and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a series of defence and energy deals in April, including for the supply of oil tankers and fighter jets for Venezuela's air force.

This week's talks will touch on "major joint energy, mining, investment and also defence industry projects," the Kremlin said.

It added the "main topic" related to finance would be plans to establish a Russia-Venezuela development bank to finance joint energy ventures, a project agreed two years ago by the countries' leaders.

Venezuela is teaming up with Russian companies to develop the country's Junin 6 oil field in the Orinoco Belt oil reserve, which Caracas says is one of the world's largest.

The enterprise -- 60 percent owned by Venezuela, 40 percent by a Russian energy consortium including Gazprom, TNK-BP, Lukoil and Rosneft -- hopes to extract up to 450,000 barrels of oil per day from the Amazon region.

Venezuela has the world's second largest crude reserves after Saudi Arabia. During the talks, the leaders also plan to sign a number of agreements on energy, housing construction and customs, the Kremlin said.

Chavez was due to arrive in Moscow at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT) and later was scheduled to attend the opening of a conference on Latin America at the Library of Foreign Literature.

Venezuela is one of the only 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.

Only a handful of other countries have followed Russia's lead, including Nicaragua and the tiny Pacific island state of Nauru.

© 2010 AFP

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