Venezuelan leader to sign arms deals with Russia

Chavez arrived from neighboring Belarus, where he met with authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, who shares his strong anti-U.S. views.

Chavez's first stop in Russia was Vologograd, formerly known as Stalingrad, where he plans to visit a vast World War II monument and a tractor factory.

He heads to Moscow on Wednesday and meets with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. Chavez is to sign a series of major Russian weapons contracts, including a more than US$1 billion deal for 30 Su-30 fighter jets and 30 helicopters.

Chavez has used surging oil revenues to modernize Venezuela's military, signing multibillion defense deals with countries including Russia and Spain. Venezuela earlier reached a deal to buy 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles and is hoping to set up factories to produce the rifles under license.

During talks with Lukashenko, the two sides signed seven agreements on military-technical cooperation, economic and other ties as well as a declaration pledging a strategic partnership. Bilateral trade was just under US$16 million ( Ђ 13 million) in 2005, according to the AP.

The visit to Belarus appeared to be largely an opportunity for Chavez to put forth anti-U.S. rhetoric. Both Lukashenko and Chavez claim the United States is trying to overthrow their governments, the AP reports.

Chavez has courted foes and critics of Washington in what he calls an effort to create a global counterbalance to U.S. domination. He has crafted a socialist trade bloc with Cuba and Bolivia, signed a series of deals with Iran, and supported North Korea's right to test-fire missiles.

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