The main story from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’ recent tour to Belarus, Portugal, Spain and Russia was his visit to Moscow July 22-23. Chavez and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed on banking cooperation, joint energy ventures, arms sales and trade. But stories surfaced suggesting that close ties between the two nations represent a possible security threat to the United States.

Russia and Venezuela ended up deciding on a binational business council and a joint bank aimed at fostering independence from European and U.S. bankers. The leaders arranged for cooperation between the state oil corporations of both nations to exploit Venezuela’s Orinoco Delta oil reserves. Private Russian investment in Venezuelan enterprises was on the agenda, as was the purchase by Lukoil, Russia’s state oil company, of a refinery in Italy to process heavy Venezuelan oil.

Trade between the two countries, predominately fertilizers, aluminum, steel and maritime products, rose from $34 million in 2003 to more than $1.1 billion last year.

World media focused on proposed Venezuelan arms purchases from Russia. The shopping basket includes coastal and air defense systems, warships, patrol aircraft, tanks, missiles and diesel submarines, all at a cost exceeding $1 billion. Venezuela will borrow from Russian banks to finance the deal. Russia has already supplied Venezuela with fighter jets, helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

While Chavez and accompanying officials were in Europe, the international press circulated information that Venezuela would buy an additional $30 billion worth of weaponry from Russia, also that Venezuela would allow Russia to situate a military base in its territory. TeleSur surveyed these reports and featured an official denial of both stories from Venezuela’s Information Ministry.

The ministry denounced unquestioning acceptance of “falsification,” along with the media’s readiness, especially in Venezuela, to circulate it, and called the reporting a “new element in the constant campaign that imperialism promotes against our country.”

The day before Chavez’ arrival in Moscow, Izvestiya said Russian nuclear bombers would be sent to bases in Cuba specifically in response to U.S. plans to mount a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russian Foreign Minister denied the story, blaming unnamed foreign states for circulating false reports.

Defense analyst Leonid Ivashov suggested, according to Agence France Presse, that Cuba should be used “not as a permanent base — this is unnecessary — but as a stopover airfield, a refueling stop.” A chorus of media comparisons burgeoned between the alleged Russian plans and the missile crisis of 1962, described by AFP as a “terrifying two-week brinkmanship.”

As if on cue, Air Force General Norton Schwartz told a Senate committee that the presence of Russian bombers in Cuba “crosses a threshold, crosses a red line for the United States of America.” Schwartz, nominated to head the Air Force, was testifying at a confirmation hearing.

The flurry, at the time a Latin American revolutionary was visiting with sympathizing Russian leaders, showed up in the dominant media as a reminder of ostensibly similar encounters in the past. For Washington, the provoking of fear could be seen as a possible counterweight to what President Chavez termed “polycentrism … a world based in a multipolar order.”

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro commended his government for maintaining “a worthy silence.” The matter of bombers, he stated, is out of Cuban hands. “You will be killed either way, whether you say yes or no. Imperialism applies Machiavellian strategy to Cuba. One need not explain, ask for excuses, or apologize.”

In line with the crescendo of skewed reporting on Russian and Latin American alliances that nurtures fear, Reuters and other sources said during Chavez’ visit to Moscow that Iran is to receive Russian missile batteries capable of defending against attacks on its nuclear facilities.

atwhit @roadrunner.com

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