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Chavez recognises Georgia rebels

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
Hugo Chavez has sought for years to build closer ties with Russia

Venezuela will recognise the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, President Hugo Chavez says.

Venezuela will become the third country to support their controversial independence declarations, after Russia and Nicaragua.

Mr Chavez made the announcement during a visit to Russia.

He was expected to sign energy and weapons deals during the visit. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev affirmed that Moscow was willing to sell arms.

Boost for Russia

Most of the world still considers South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be part of Georgia. They were the subject of a war between Russia and Georgia last year.

Georgia launched an assault to try to regain control of South Ossetia, but it was repelled by Russian forces.

Russia then built up its presence in both South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and recognised their independence.

The move was condemned by the West, and snubbed by the international community, with only Nicaragua following suit.

But analysts say Venezuela's move will be a boost for Russia, which has made no secret of its wish to see an end to what it calls the "regime in Georgia" of President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev thanked Mr Chavez for his announcement, adding: "We think that it is a sovereign affair of states whether to recognise their independence."

Maracas

The two presidents were also set to discuss major arms and energy deals at the Kremlin.

Venezuela has been a major customer for Russian arms exports in recent years.

Russian press have reported this week that Venezuela could be about to buy up to 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks worth $500m (£300m), three diesel-powered Kilo-class submarines, as well as armoured vehicles, helicopters and missiles.

"We will supply Venezuela the weapons that Venezuela asks for. In accordance with all international law, of course," Mr Medvedev said.

Asked about tanks he replied: "Why not tanks? Without question, we have good tanks. If our friends want our tanks, we will deliver them."

But he refused to confirm the specifics of any deal, saying: "These sorts of contracts are never signed in public."

Mr Chavez arrived on Wednesday and gave a speech at Moscow's People's Friendship University.

Characteristically, it lasted two and a half hours and included a tirade against the United States as well as a singalong, with Mr Chavez on maracas.



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Regions and territories: South Ossetia
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Regions and territories: Abkhazia
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