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Russia fire kills 5 soldiers, destroys papers

Associated Press / September 14, 2009

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MOSCOW - Five soldiers died yesterday in a fire at a military base in Russia, and a state news agency said the blaze may have destroyed sensitive security documents.

The RIA-Novosti agency said the fire at the base in Tambov, about 300 miles south of Moscow, damaged a large section of a building of the GRU, the military’s foreign intelligence unit.

It quoted an unnamed source in the Russian special services as saying that the fire-damaged section included an area where important documents are kept.

The damage was initially assessed as “very serious,’’ the agency quoted the source as saying.

The Defense Ministry could not be reached for comment on the report.

Alexei Kuznetsov, the first deputy defense minister, went to the base to investigate the fire, the official news agency ITAR-Tass reported.

In a separate development yesterday, President Hugo Chávez said Russia had opened a $2.2 billion line of credit for Venezuela to purchase armored vehicles and surface-to-air missiles.

Chávez said Venezuela needs new weapons to replace outdated equipment while preparing for what he contends is a possible US invasion.

The socialist leader frequently warns that Washington wants to seize control of his country’s oil reserves.

The arms deal was announced last week during Chávez’s visit to Moscow, and he gave details yesterday. He says his government plans to buy 92 T-72 tanks and Smerch missile-launching systems.

Venezuela has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets, and Kalashnikov assault rifles.