World News

Ecuador to seek defense deals with Russia

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa talks to media during a news conference with Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in Caracas October 7, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuador’s leftist President Rafael Correa said on Saturday he will travel to Russia late this month to strengthen ties aimed in part at enhancing his country’s defenses.

Correa is a critic of Washington and an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is building up his military with Russian weapons.

Both socialist presidents object to a deal being negotiated between Colombia and the United States under which U.S. anti-narcotics operations will be launched from Colombian bases.

Leaders throughout the region and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have voiced concern that South America might be headed for an arms race.

“We are going to go to Russia to open new markets and establish mechanisms of cooperation in the area of defense,” Correa said in a televised address. “We need to recover the operational capacity of our military.”

Correa, who is also strengthening Ecuador’s trade ties with China, did not specify the type of deals he will seek to sign with Russia or the exact schedule of his trip.

Chavez recently returned from Russia with a list of weapons purchases, including the advanced S-300 missile defense system and 92 tanks.

In September, Russia lent $2.2 billion for weapons to Venezuela, where it has growing oil interests. Ecuador is also an oil producer and a member of OPEC.

Reporting by Javier Mozzo; Editing by Eric Beech