Friday, July 28, 2006

Russia To Sell Arms To Venezuela

Hugo Chavez has sealed a massive arms deal to buy Russian fighter jets, officials said on Thursday as the Venezuelan leader met President Vladimir Putin on a tour that is being seen as a snub to the United States. The two leaders focussed on Russian energy investment in Venezuela and Venezuelan arms purchases from Russia at their Kremlin meeting. “There has been extraordinary progress in our military technology cooperation. I want to thank President Putin for his strong support,” Chavez said after the meeting. The head of Russia’s arms export agency, Sergei Chemezov, told reporters after the meeting: “Some contracts for three billion dollars have been signed over the last year and a half” including “for 24 Sukhois and 53 helicopters.” Chavez said Russian weapons were badly needed by his country following a US government ban on sales by US manufacturers of defence products to Venezuela.
Hugo Chavez and Vladimir Putin
“We would like to thank you for freeing us from a blockade,” Chavez told Putin. “We were practically disarmed,” Chavez said, referring to Venezuela’s problems getting spare parts for its existing fleet of US-built F-16 fighter jets. The United States had called on Russia earlier this week to reconsider the sale of the Su-30 fighter jets, which earlier reports said would amount to 30 such jets. At Thursday’s meeting Putin also welcomed plans for Russian energy firms to develop energy deposits in Venezuela. “Venezuela for us is a natural partner,” Putin said. “These (reserves) represent colossal potential, and I’m very happy that our companies are working to find joint solutions in the energy sector.” Chavez said the Russian firms Lukoil and Gazprom were both considered important partners. Putin also gave his backing to Venezuela’s bid to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, something which Chavez is hoping to win support for on his world tour. “We will support Venezuela’s candidature to become a non-permanent member of the Security Council ... We are for a multipolar world,” Putin said. The Russian business daily Vedomosti said on Thursday that Chavez was also planning to buy Russian Tor-M1 short-range surface-to-air missile systems designed to shoot down planes, helicopters and cruise missiles.