Vladimir Radyuhin

MOSCOW: Russia has agreed to supply tanks and other arms to Venezuela, said President Dmitry Medvedev after talks with his visiting Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez.

“We will supply to Venezuela weapons it asks for, even as we honour our international obligations,” said Mr. Medvedev at a joint press conference with the Venezuelan leader on Thursday.

“Military-technical cooperation is an important component of our relations.”

A senior Defence industry official told the RIA Novosti news agency that the two sides could sign a $500-million contract for the supply of up to 100 T-72 and T-90 tanks to Venezuela.

Moscow said it could give loans to Venezuela to buy Russian arms.

Diplomatic boost

In a diplomatic boost to Russia, Mr. Chavez said Venezuela decided to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Venezuela would become the third country to extend diplomatic recognition to the two breakaway Georgian regions, after Russia and Nicaragua.

Experts said Venezuela has emerged as the third biggest buyer of Russian arms after India and China.

In recent years, Russia has signed contracts with its Latin American ally to supply over 50 helicopters, 24 Su-30MK2 fighter planes and over 1,00,000 Kalashnikov rifles.

“Russian-Venezuelan defence deals in the next 10 years may amount to $5 billion,” said defence expert Ruslan Pukhov.