Venezuelan president calls on Russians to boost investment

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez criticized U.S. companies as "vampires" and called on Russian businessmen to boost their investment in his country.

As Chavez kept up his verbal attacks on the United States during a visit to Russia, a Russian arms trade official said he hopes Venezuela will buy five Russian submarines - a purchase that would likely anger Washington.

Chavez said he expects development of a "road map" that will boost and diversify Russian-Venezuelan business ties - especially in the energy sector, including construction of a natural gas pipeline and oil refineries.

"We are very satisfied with the presence of Russian companies in our oil industry, and will do our best to develop this cooperation further," he said in an address to Russia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

He said that at dinner Thursday night with President Vladimir Putin, they agreed to create a fund to support joint projects. With Russia's help, Venezuela is ready to build four oil refineries and plans another 13, he said.

He also invited Russian oil companies to help develop the Orinoco River basin, recognized as the world's single largest known oil deposit, potentially holding 1.2 trillion barrels of extra-heavy crude.

U.S. giants Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips refused to sign deals this week to keep pumping heavy oil under tougher terms in the basin, signaling their departure from the deposit as Chavez tightens state control over the oil industry.

Other major oil companies Chevron Corp., Britain's BP PLC, France's Total SA and Norway's Statoil ASA accepted the terms, taking new minority stakes.

Chavez, who has called U.S. President George W. Bush a devil, a donkey and a drunkard, again lambasted the U.S. and its "imperialist" policies.

"U.S. companies act like Count Dracula, like vampires bleeding our country dry," he said.

Chavez urged Russian companies to invest in construction of an 8,000-kilometer (5,000-miles) natural gas pipeline to Argentina, retrofitting Venezuela's dilapidated sea ports, and developing its gold mining and chemical and industries.

"For the Americas, Venezuela is like Russia for Europe and Asia - a source of oil and natural gas," he said.

Both Venezuela and Russia have revisited contracts signed in the 1990s with major oil companies, and slapped back-tax claims on private companies.

Chavez arrived Wednesday amid widespread speculation that he wanted to sign a major arms deal, and Putin said the weapons trade was among the topics of talks late Thursday.

On Friday, the RIA-Novosti news agency quoted an official with the Russian arms sales monopoly as saying the sides were in talks on the possible purchase by Venezuela of five Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines.

"We are conducting these talks, and I hope that this agreement is possible," RIA-Novosti quoted Innokenty Naletov, an aide to the director of Rosoboronexport, as saying. He said there were also talks on supplies of military equipment for ground and air forces.

Caracas already has purchased some US$3 billion (EUR2.25 billion) worth of arms from Russia, including 53 military helicopters, 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 24 SU-30 Sukhoi fighter jets and other weapons. The United States has voiced concern about Venezuela's military spending.

Chavez is to travel Friday to Belarus for meetings and possible talks about an air defense system equipped with radar and anti-aircraft missiles.