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Russia agrees to build Venezuela's first nuclear plant

Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev (right) and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez (left) concluded a raft of deals during talks in Moscow on Friday, including an agreement for Russia to build Venezuela's first nuclear power plant.


AFP - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez clinched a host of deals Friday to boost a burgeoning relationship with Russia, including an accord to build the first nuclear power plant in his country.

As well as the accord for Russia to build and operate the key OPEC member's first nuclear power station, Chavez's ninth visit to Moscow saw big deals with Russia for the purchase of energy assets.

The flamboyant leader launched one of his customary tirades against the West after his talks in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev and also surprised his Russian counterpart by producing a bag of Venezuelan gifts.

"The changes in relations in the economic sector have been tectonic and involve all areas of our mutual interests," Medvedev said alongside the Venezuelan leader.

The nuclear agreement was signed by the head of Russia's atomic energy agency Sergei Kiriyenko and built on a plan agreed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin with Chavez during a visit to Caracas in April.

Medvedev said diversifying energy sources was a priority even for a energy-rich country like Venezuela.

"We want our partner to have the full range of options in energy and have energy independence and the means to develop," Medvedev said.

In an apparent reference to the United States, Medvedev acknowledged that the move to build the facility could concern some countries.

"I do not know if anyone is going to shudder at this. The president (Chavez) said there are going to be states that have different emotions about this. But I wanted to say our intentions are clean and honest."

Kiriyenko told the ITAR-TASS news agency that the nuclear plant could be built "perhaps in 10 years and perhaps earlier."

The United States said it would keep a close eye on the the reactor project.

"It is certainly a right of any country to pursue civilian nuclear energy, but with that right comes responsibilities," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters in Washington.

"And we would expect Venezuela, Russia or any other country... pursuing this kind of technology to meet all international obligations," he said.

Russia has been building Iran's first nuclear plant in the southern city of Bushehr, a project that has at times been the subject of considerable Western discomfort.

Chavez said his country had grown too reliant on oil and had high levels of poverty despite "living in an ocean of oil." He blamed "imperialism" for the country's economic ills.

Chavez praised Russia for providing aid to developing countries in South America and Africa.

"Russia needs to continue in this direction, like the great nation it is, to build a new world," Chevez added. "I thank you, Vladimir. I thank you, Dmitry!" he said, referring to Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The Russian president appeared taken aback when Chavez handed him a goody bag of Venezuelan treats, including chocolate bars, banana jam and a box of cocoa powder.

At a ceremony in the Kremlin, Russian state oil giant Rosneft signed an agreement with Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) to acquire its 50-percent stake in German refining firm Ruhr Oel GmbH for 1.6 billion dollars.

The agreement will give Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil firm, a key foothold in the European market. Ruhr Oel GmbH was until now been a joint venture with British energy firm BP.

The Russian and Venezuelan energy ministries also signed a memorandum of understanding supporting a plan for TNK-BP to acquire BP's assets in Venezuela.

TNK-BP is a joint venture partly owned by British energy giant BP. BP is considering selling a range of assets to finance its losses after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Chavez's trip to Russia is part of a major international tour aimed at strengthening trade ties with several countries in eastern Europe and the Middle East, including Iran and Libya.

Venezuela is one of the few countries to have backed Russia in recognising the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states following a brief war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.


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