Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia will sell Venezuela weapons worth $3 billion despite strong objections from the United States.

As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez met President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Thursday, Russia's chief arms exporter announced his country had clinched arms deals with Venezuela worth $3 billion. The deals include the supply of 24 Russian Sukhoi-30 jets and 53 helicopters, Rosoboron head Sergei Chemizov told Russian television. Mr. Chavez is also negotiating to buy a factory for the manufacture of Russia's famous Kalashnikov rifles in addition to 100,000 Kalashnikovs he purchased from Russia off the shelf.

The U.S., which had banned all arms sales to Venezuela, called on Russia to cancel the deals, claiming the arms purchases exceeded Venezuela's defensive needs and "are not helpful in terms of regional stability."

However, President Putin said Russia would stand by its commitments.

U.S. criticised

"Russia will be a reliable partner for Venezuela, as well as for all our partners in the world," Mr. Putin said after talks with the Venezuelan leader.

"Cooperation between Russia and Venezuela is not directed against third countries," the Russian leader added.

Mr. Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington, praised Russia for defying the U.S. arms blockade, describing the U.S. as "the biggest threat which exists in the world." "It is a senseless, blind, stupid giant which doesn't understand the world, doesn't understand human rights, doesn't understand anything about humanity, culture and consciousness," the Venezuelan leader said while unveiling a bust of 19th century South American liberation hero Simon Bolivar at a Moscow library on Thursday.

Mr. Putin said Russian companies were prepared to invest "hundreds of millions and billions of dollars" in Venezuela. He also promised to support Venezuela for rotating membership in the U.N. Security Council over U.S.-backed Guatemala.

Mr. Chavez said he had invited Russia to join the construction of the world's longest gas pipeline across South America. It is Mr. Chavez's fourth visit to Russia in five years.