Chávez defies US with Russia, China relations

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s visit to China and Russia this week and the military and energy cooperation deals he signed put him on dangerous ground in his relations with the United States, political analysts said.

“This trip shows he intends not only to break free of the US sphere of influence in matters of defence, but also to strike significant political links with the very powers that challenge US supremacy,” international studies professor Elsa Cardozo said.

Since Chávez came to power in 1999, Venezuela has become a major buyer of Russian weaponry on the premise it needs stronger defences in case it comes under foreign attack. Chávez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting his overthrow.

During Chávez’s visit, Moscow on Thursday announced a $1-billion loan to Venezuela to buy Russian arms. Both countries in 2005 and 2007 signed deals for $4,4-billion of Russian weapons, including fighter jets, tanks and assault rifles.

“The United States has tried to disarm us, to boycott us, and we’ve got some old, US-made planes that can’t fly because the United States won’t sell us spare parts,” said Chávez.

“I went to Beijing, I went to Moscow and now we’ve got a fighter squadron better than the F-16s,” he added.

Chávez’s trip to Russia came only days after Moscow sent a pair of Tu-160 strategic bombers on a training mission to Venezuela, followed by a naval flotilla led by the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser Peter the Great.

The Russian warships were to take part in unprecedented joint manoeuvres with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean Sea, in a part of the world the US has traditionally regarded as its backyard.

“Russia has new intentions, as it has shown in the Caucasus, and Chávez has absolutely irresponsibly opened the doors of the Caribbean and the Venezuela territory to them,” said world politics analyst Maruja Tarre.

“We don’t know why he’s done this.
We don’t know how many Russians will come over. It’s something that should be discussed openly, publicly, but that’s not the case,” she added.

“Russia’s game is not Venezuela’s, and our country is facing unnecessary risks by taking on an agenda it doesn’t control,” said Cardozo.

“In its bid to regain its superpower footing, Russia is sending the US a message: ‘We’ve got a welcome mat in South America’,” added the university professor.

Growing relations
So far, Washington has downplayed the Venezuela-Russia overtures.

“Clearly, those two countries ... can work together as they see fit. I just don’t consider that a really significant threat at this particular point in time,” chairperson of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen told reporters Friday.

In another disconcerting move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s predecessor and now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday offered Russia’s cooperation in developing nuclear power in Venezuela.

Also of international concern are Venezuela’s growing relations with Iran, a country on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism that could be dabbling with nuclear weapons.

“What threat can Venezuela’s relations with Iran and Russia pose, when the biggest threat to the world is the US empire’s very existence,” said Chávez recently.

But Tarre said: “Latin America has vowed to stay a nuclear-free. And Venezuela, apart from not needing nuclear power plants, would be violating [nuclear-free] treaties it signed with other neighbouring countries.”

During his three-day visit to China earlier this week, Chávez also announced he was buying 24 K-8 reconnaissance and training aircraft from China, which he said “Venezuela needs very much”. Venezuela has also purchased Chinese radar stations in the past.

The K-8 sale went unconfirmed by Chinese authorities, who were very reticent about their relations with Venezuela. Chinese officials denied that any military cooperation agreements were signed during Chávez’s visit.

“Even the Chinese said they kept only trade relations with Venezuela, but the Russians have other goals. On their big chessboard, Venezuela is just a pawn to be cast aside when they choose, and that’s the end of it,” said Tarre.—AFP

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