Wednesday, Dec. 9
CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez revealed that thousands of Igla-S antiaircraft missiles purchased from Russia “have begun to arrive” as part of a program to modernize the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, which has stirred up distrust amongst neighboring countries over the possibility of an arms race.
In reference to the missiles manufactured by Rosoboronexport, Chávez said, “We have them here now. Few countries have as many as we do,” in statements to EFE on Dec. 7 during an event at Miraflores Palace, the seat of government in Caracas.
The portable Igla-S antiaircraft systems, together with 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles, 24 Sukhoi-30 fighter-bombers and 53 MI-17, M-26 and M-35 helicopters comprise some of the purchases made by Venezuela from the Russian arms industry since 2006, reported RIA Novosti, and are worth approximately US$4.4 billion.
“And the tanks are on their way, the T-72s to strengthen our armored units,” added Chávez according to La Nación, in reference to the 92 units acquired this year with additional funding of US$2.2 million awarded by Russian President Dmitri Medvédev’s government.
In a fresh reference to the cooperative agreement signed by Colombia and the United States in October to fight narcoterrorism, Chávez reiterated, “The best way to avoid a war is to prepare for it,” and added that the Colombian decision is the reason behind Venezuela’s military upgrade.
Furthermore, the Venezuelan president maintained that he turned to Russia as a supplier after the United States “refused” to supply replacements for arms that Venezuela had previously purchased to equip its troops.
The United States suspended the sale of arms and military equipment to Venezuela in May 2006, recalled EFE, after deeming that Chávez was not cooperating fully in the fight against terrorism.
Separately, El Universal reported that Russian engineers and Venezuelan construction companies have begun to build the factories where AK-103 rifles and their ammunition will be built. The Russian ambassador in Caracas, Vladmir Zaemskiy, was unable to provide an approximation as to when the assembly lines will begin operations, but did reveal that they will employ 1,500 workers.
“Russia is working closely with the Venezuelan authorities on the transfer of advanced technology to create the rifle production lines,” Zaemskiy told AP.