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Russian Moves Show Military Ambitions

Russian Moves Show Military Ambitions
Published: September 27, 2008

stepped up efforts to project its increased might on the world stage on Friday, welcoming President Hugo Chávez
of Venezuela
by signing a $1 billion military loan to Venezuela and announcing wide-ranging plans to modernize its nuclear deterrence.

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Miraflores Palace/Reuters

President Hugo Chávez, holding a replica Russian Tu-160 long-range bomber, and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin in Orenburg, Russia, on Friday.

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The Russian Navy also dispatched a warship to the Indian Ocean to try to intercept a Ukrainian vessel carrying 30 battle tanks that was seized by pirates, as the United States also sent a warship in hot pursuit.

After a military exercise in the southern city of Orenburg, near the border with Kazakhstan, the Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev
declared that by 2020 Russia would construct new types of warships, including nuclear submarines carrying cruise missiles, and an unspecified space defense system.

"A guaranteed nuclear deterrent system for various military and political circumstances must be provided by 2020," Mr. Medvedev said, in comments reported by Reuters.

"Large-scale construction of new types of warships is planned, primarily of nuclear submarines armed with cruise missiles, and multi-purpose submarines," he was quoted as saying. “A system of air and space defense will be created.”

Russia, irritated by Western recognition of Kosovo’s independence, NATO
’s expansion into the former Soviet realm, and the United States’ insistence on establishing a missile defense system in eastern Europe, has become increasingly keen to project its military might, defiantly ignoring American and European warnings when it sent troops into Georgia last month.

In a sign of increasing antagonism, Russia has withheld some cooperation with other Western countries on international efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The Russian government said Tuesday that it would boycott a meeting that had been scheduled at the United Nations
for Thursday to discuss a fourth round of sanctions to force Iran to give up what many countries think is a program to develop nuclear weapons. The session was to have included the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

The Russian announcement was viewed by many diplomats as retribution for a tough speech that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
delivered last week in which she denounced Russia’s behavior in the Georgian crisis.

On Friday, Russia and the United States agreed to seek a new United Nations resolution calling on Iran to comply with earlier demands to suspend uranium enrichment — a sign that the two countries at least were talking, but the statement only reiterated previous positions, The Associated Press reported.British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the brief resolution will affirm the three previous ones, which imposed progressively tougher sanctions on Iran for refusing to halt its enrichment program and urged Tehran to comply, The A.P. reported.

Emboldened by lucrative oil revenues, and the United States’ distractions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia has also said it wants to build alliances to stand up to American power in the world, and has sought closer relations with Mr. Chávez, a longtime critic of the United States.

Mr. Chávez, on his second visit to Russia in two months, met with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin
on Thursday, and on Friday traveled to Orenburg to meet with Mr. Medvedev.

The $1 billion loan for arms purchases and military development was announced in a Kremlin statement released Thursday night. The statement said Mr. Putin and Mr. Chávez had spoken on enhancing economic cooperation and trade in commercial goods as well as military technologies.

The $1 billion loan will help finance programs related to military-technical cooperation, the statement said. The Kremlin would not elaborate on the details of the deal.

Between 2005 and 2007 Venezuela has signed 12 contracts for weapons purchases from Russia for a total of more than $4.4 billion, the Kremlin statement said.

The move is the latest gesture of military friendship between Russia and Venezuela, two counties that have increasingly positioned themselves as mavericks vis-à-vis the West.

The Kremlin says its economic and political stability have allowed it to broaden the scope of its military and economic cooperation beyond what it calls its traditional sphere of influence.

Earlier this month a pair of Russian Tu-160 long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons received a warm welcome when they landed in Venezuela. Russia has also dispatched a squadron from its North Sea Fleet to the Caribbean to take part in joint naval exercises with the Venezuelan Navy sometime in November.

“Latin America, of course, is becoming an obvious link in the chain making up a multipolar world,” Mr. Putin said during his meeting with Mr. Chávez. “We will allocate more and more attention to this vector of our economics and foreign policy.”

Russia has already delivered Sukhoi Su-30 fighters, Mi-17 transport helicopters, and thousands of Kalashnikov assault rifles to Venezuela. There are also plans to build a factory in the country that will manufacture these weapons under license.

Graham Bowley reported from New York and Michael Schwirtz from Moscow. Neil Macfarquhar contributed reporting from the United Nations.

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