CARACAS, Venezuela – President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that Russia will help Venezuela develop nuclear energy — a move likely to raise U.S. concerns over increasingly close cooperation between Caracas and Moscow.
Chavez said he accepted an offer from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for assistance in building a nuclear reactor.
"Russia is ready to support Venezuela in the development of nuclear energy with peaceful purposes and we already have a commission working on it," Chavez said. "We are interested in developing nuclear energy."
Putin offered Chavez assistance in developing nuclear energy during a meeting in the Russian city of Novo-Ogaryovo last week. The prime minister did not specify what kind of cooperation he could offer Venezuela, but Russia is aggressively promoting itself as a builder of nuclear power plants in developing nations.
Russia has ramped up its cooperation with Venezuela since last month's war with Georgia, which badly damaged Moscow's already strained ties with the West, particularly the United States.
During Chavez's visit to Russia last week, a Russian naval squadron sailed for the Caribbean Sea in preparation for joint exercises with Venezuela later this year — a move that appeared retaliatory after the U.S. sent warships to deliver aid to Georgia.
The deployment is expected to represent the largest Russian naval maneuvers in the Caribbean — and perhaps the Western Hemisphere — since the Cold War.
Chavez says that stronger ties with Russia will help build a multi-polar world — a term the two allies use to describe their shared opposition to what they claim is U.S. global domination.
Since 2005, Venezuela has agreed to buy more than US$4.4 billion worth of weapons from Russia including fighter jets, combat helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. And President Dmitry Medvedev has offered Chavez a loan to purchase additional weapons.
Chavez argues the United States and European Union do not have the right to prevent developing countries from pursuing nuclear technology, and he has strongly defended Iran's nuclear program despite the Western powers' fear that Tehran may be building nuclear weapons.
Before taking Russia up on its offer, Chavez had expressed interest in acquiring a nuclear reactor from Argentina and working with Iran, among other countries, to research nuclear energy.