- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

MOSCOW | Russia must modernize its armed forces and upgrade its nuclear deterrent, in part by building a new air and space defense network, President Dmitry Medvedev said Friday.

Mr. Medvedev also announced plans to begin large-scale production of warships, primarily nuclear-powered submarines armed with cruise missiles.

The announcement comes as Russia and the United States face Cold War-like diplomatic tensions, and Moscow has been increasing military cooperation with U.S. foes such as Venezuela, which has been granted a $1 billion credit to buy Russian weaponry.

Mr. Medvedev said the need for the modernization was demonstrated by last month’s military conflict with Georgia. Russia responded to Georgia’s attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia with overwhelming force and easily crushed the Georgian army, but the brief war highlighted Russia’s aging arsenal.

“We must ensure superiority in the air, in carrying out precision strikes at land and sea targets and in the timely deployment of forces,” Mr. Medvedev told military commanders after military exercises in the southern Orenburg region.

The president said Russia must have “a guaranteed nuclear deterrent system” in place by 2020, and he gave military commanders until December to come up with a plan.

He emphasized the need for nuclear-powered submarines armed with cruise missiles and for multipurpose attack submarines.

Russia’s economic troubles after the 1991 Soviet collapse hit the armed forces hard. But in recent years, flush with oil money, the Kremlin has been pumping more money into new weapons systems.

Earlier Friday, Russia and Venezuelan officials signed agreements meant to bolster cooperation in the oil and gas industry, thus playing up energy ties between two nations trying to decrease U.S. influence around the world.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Mr. Medvedev watched the signing of deals between their energy ministries and state energy companies in Orenburg. Mr. Chavez was on his second trip to Russia in just over two months.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered to discuss further arms sales to Venezuela and possibly help it develop nuclear energy.

Since 2005, Russia has signed contracts worth more than $4.4 billion to supply Venezuela with arms including fighter jets, helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The Kremlin said Thursday that Russia is granting Venezuela a $1 billion credit for the purchase of Russian weaponry, and the state-run news agency RIA-Novosti quoted the director of the state-holding Russian Technologies, Sergei Chemezov, as saying Russia and Venezuela are in talks on the possible supply of Russian anti-aircraft systems and armor including armored personnel carriers.

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