Chavez Defies U.S. by Dealing with Russia, China
By BEATRIZ LECUMBERRI, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Published: 27 Sep 17:45 EDT (21:45 GMT)
CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez'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 U.S. sphere of influence in matters of defense, but also to strike significant political links with the very powers that challenge U.S. supremacy," international studies professor Elsa Cardozo said.
Since Chavez came to power in 1999, Venezuela has become a major buyer of Russian weaponry on the premise it needs stronger defenses in case it comes under foreign attack. Chavez has repeatedly accused Washington of plotting his overthrow.
During Chavez's visit, Moscow on Sept. 25 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, U.S.-made planes that can't fly because the United States won't sell us spare parts," Chavez said.
"I went to Beijing, I went to Moscow, and now we've got a fighter squadron better than the F-16s," he added.
Chavez'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 maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy in the Caribbean Sea, in a part of the world the U.S. has traditionally regarded as its backyard.
"Russia has new intentions, as it has shown in the Caucasus, and Chavez 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."
"Russia's game is not Venezuela's, and our country is facing unnecessary risks by taking on an agenda it doesn't control," Cardozo said.
"In its bid to regain its superpower footing, Russia is sending the U.S. a message: 'We've got a welcome mat in South America,'" added the university professor.
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," Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen told reporters Sept. 26.
In another disconcerting move, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's predecessor and now Prime Minister Valdimir Putin on Sept. 25 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 U.S. 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 U.S. empire's very existence," Chavez said 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 neighboring countries."
During his three-day visit to China earlier this week, Chavez 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 Chavez'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. Link