Independance of Abkhazia and South Ossetia: Plus One

  More than a year passed since Russia recognized the indipendence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Only Nicaragua had agreed so far. Finally one more country contributed to the historical move.

    "Venezuela from today is joining in the recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia," Chavez told President Dmitry Medvedev through a translator at the Russian leader's residence outside Moscow.

   Caracas would start the process of establishing diplomatic relations with them soon, he added.

     The rest of the world views the two regions, which threw off Georgian rule in the early 1990s and have run their own affairs since, as an integral part of Georgia. The issue has become a key sticking point in relations between the West and Russia.

    President Dmitry Medvedev thanked Chavez, who is visiting Moscow, for his support. Shortly afterwards he said Russia would supply tanks and other weapons sought by Venezuela.

    No details were given of the arms deal but Russia's state RIA news agency quoted a military source as saying Venezuela would buy 100 tanks for $500 million. The two sides also announced plans for a joint bank with capital of $4 billion to finance their projects.

   Venezuela wants to beef up its weaponry to resist what Chavez terms U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Tension has also been rising with neighboring Colombia, a close U.S. ally and historic rival of Venezuela.

    Venezuela and Colombia came close to war last year and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has accused Chavez of supporting FARC Marxist rebels fighting Bogota. Venezuela objects to Colombia allowing the United States to use its military bases for anti-drug operations.

     Latin American diplomats in Moscow were concerned by the potential impact of the arms deal on regional security.

  "If the tanks are something Russia is sending for immediate dispatch, this will destabilize the region," one diplomat said. "If it is an order which has to be manufactured and delivered over coming years, then it is more of a political act."

  Chavez later held talks with powerful Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who praised his decision on the recognition of Georgia's breakaway regions.

    Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian energy companies also signed an agreement to create a joint venture to develop a block in the Orinoco oil belt, Russian news agencies reported.

    Venezuela says the Orinoco belt has the largest hydrocarbon reserves in the world, though the oil is extra heavy. Russia says PDVSA and the Russian consortium will need to jointly invest $30 billion in the Junin 6 oil field.

  Cooperation between Russia, the world's No. 2 oil exporter, and OPEC member Venezuela has been dismissed by the United States as mostly talk but is watched with concern by Colombia, according to the Washington Post report.