Russia and Venezuela on Saturday moved closer to an oil venture deal and discussed arms trade, forging a partnership that may drag Russia into a row over the U.S. military presence in Colombia.
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, due in Russia in September, said last week he was prepared to buy dozens of Russian tanks to counter the U.S. intention to increase a military presence in Colombia.
"The president of Venezuela is one of the leading international policy makers. He is a very strong personality and a big friend of Russia," said Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin.
"I know from experience if he said something he will definitely do it," Sechin told a news conference after talks with Venezuelan Vice President Ramon Carrizalez when asked whether Russia would sell tanks to Venezuela.
Sechin said military cooperation with Venezuela will help Russia's struggling military industrial complex cope with the economic crisis but declined to comment further on the tank deal saying it was for presidents to work it out.
Colombia's government is expected to sign a deal this month giving U.S. forces increased access to military bases in order to fight the cocaine trade and Marxist insurgents.
Chavez has blasted the plan as a threat to regional stability.
"We as a sovereign state must protect our people and in that sense we can make arms purchases that we deem necessary," Carrizalez said. "These bases without doubt create a threat for all Latin American countries."
Russia, the world's second largest oil exporter, wants to revive Latin American ties cultivated during the Soviet era. Sechin's recent Latin American tour included traditional Soviet allies Cuba and Nicaragua.
Russia and Venezuela are expected next month to present a joint venture that aims to develop the Junin 6 block in the Orinoco oil belt, which Venezuela says has the world's largest hydrocarbon reserves.
Sechin said Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA and a consortium of Russian firms will need to jointly invest $30 billion in Venezuela's Junin 6 oil field.
"The venture with PDVSA may become a leader in oil production in Venezuela," Sechin said, adding that Ayacucho 2 and Junin 3 blocks, controlled by PDVSA ventures with TNK-BP and LUKOIL could also be included in the joint venture.
Sechin said reserves in the Junin 6 oil block are estimated at 53 billion barrels, potentially making it the biggest Russian oil exploration project abroad, and will last for at least 40 years.
The Russian consortium includes Rosneft, Gazprom, Lukoil,TNK-BP and Surgutneftegaz. It also intends to bid for blocks in the Carabobo Project.