MOSCOW — In a showy display of cash-slicked camaraderie and like-minded politics, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recognized the independence of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia on Thursday during a state visit to Russia.
Venezuela becomes the third country, after Russia and Nicaragua, to acknowledge the national aspirations of the two small regions inside Georgia's internationally recognized borders.
Impoverished South Ossetia was at the heart of last summer's war between Russia and Georgia, and Moscow has been accused of carrying out a de facto annexation of the two republics.
"We recognize both republics starting from today," Chavez said during a meeting at the residence of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
The Russian leader thanked Chavez enthusiastically, and promptly pledged to sell tanks and other weapons to Venezuela.
"There will be tanks among the deliveries [of armaments]. Why not?" said the Russian president. "We have good tanks. If our friends order them, we will deliver."
Although details were not announced, a military source told the state news agency RIA Novosti that Venezuela would buy 100 tanks for $500 million.
The rewards and platitudes flowed as Chavez met with Medvedev and Russia's powerful prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
Medvedev announced plans to open a joint bank with Venezuela with $4 billion in capital to fund the cpuntries' mutual projects. If needed, the Russian president added, the cash deposits would be increased.
Venezuela is giving Russia a scrap of badly needed legitimacy in its drive to present the two rebel regions as independent nations. The international community's unwillingness to join Moscow has been seen as evidence of Russian isolation.
But Moscow continues to champion the cause, and has accused the West of a double standard, citing Kosovo's widely recognized independence from Serbia.
"We were the first state which came to the rescue of these young subjects of international law," Medvedev said Thursday. "We are glad that their support is widening worldwide."
For his part, Chavez echoed a suggestion circulating among the Russian elite when he called on the ruble to be elevated to a global reserve currency.
He also spoke repeatedly of a "multipolar world," invoking a catchphrase that gained popularity under Putin as shorthand for shaving U.S. influence and distributing power more equally among various regions of the globe.
And in the ultimate nod to Moscow's aspirations, he said, "Russia is a superpower."
In an aside, Chavez accused the United States of using the drug war in Colombia as an excuse to establish military bases so it can exert control over Latin America -- and Africa.
"In reality, this is about wanting to control the whole world," Chavez said.
In Georgia, the Foreign Ministry lashed out at what it termed a "dictator's" decision to recognize the two republics.
"This recognition -- bought by Russia with money and weapons -- bears no relation to the will of the Venezuelan people," the ministry in Tbilisi said in a statement.