Moscow: Venezuela`s president Hugo Chavez says his country has recognised the independence of the Georgian separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
His announcement on Thursday at the start of a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev could be a significant boost for Moscow, which recognised the regions as independent after last year`s war with Georgia.
Only Nicaragua followed suit, a tacit slap by the international community. Russia now has thousands of troops in each of the two regions.
Chavez is expected to discuss major arms and energy agreements with the Kremlin after he kicked off his trip to Moscow with a trademark anti-US tirade.
The flamboyant leader known for his outbursts against Washington started his eighth visit to Russia on Wednesday night with a two-and-a-half hour speech in which he compared the United States to a boa gobbling up smaller nations and calling it "the world`s main terrorist”.
"Do you know how a boa swallows?" he asked students of the Moscow-based Patrice Lumumba People`s Friendship University, quoted by Interfax news agency. "The US wants to own the entire world but the Yankee empire is falling. It will certainly fall ...This will happen in the coming years, decades."
He praised President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, saying the country was getting up from its knees.
"I believe Putin and Medvedev will leave behind a great legacy not only for Russia but for the entire world," he said.
Russian television showed the students, with Russian and Venezuelan flags in their hands, cheering and applauding Chavez, who also sang with a band on stage and played the maracas.
Chavez, who is planning to beef up his army in response to a growing US presence in Venezuela`s neighbour Colombia, could sign deals to buy Russian arms and military vehicles during his visit.
Ria-Novosti news agency, citing a senior source in the Russian defence industry, said a deal to sell Venezuela up to 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks worth USD 500 million would be signed during the Venezuelan leader`s stay in Moscow. Venezuela is also expected to buy three diesel-powered Kilo-class submarines, a "large shipment" of BMP-3 armoured vehicles, 10 Mi-28 helicopters and "several" land-based anti-ship missiles, a Russian defence industry source told Interfax news agency on Tuesday.
Medvedev`s top foreign policy aide Sergei Prikhodko said Russia might give Venezuela a loan to help it finance purchases of the Russian arms but didn`t provide further details, Russian news agencies reported.
In recent years, Venezuela has signed over USD 4 billion worth of arms contracts with Russia, and last November its navy held joint exercises with Russian warships in the Caribbean, traditionally seen as a US domain.
The Russian oil consortium and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA are also expected to sign an agreement to establish a joint venture to develop a block in the Orinoco heavy crude belt.