Russian weapons sales to Venezuela are set to leap, and Venezuela, despite concern from Washington, is on course to become a leading military power in Latin America.
“We have initialed agreements [with Venezuela] for us$4 billion,” reported an official with Russian state arms-exporting agency Rosoboronexport on Monday, “and we can say that at least we are to double or treble this sum” over the next few years.
Serguei Ladiguin said that the two nations are now drafting weapons supply deals for naval warships, fighter planes and helicopter gunships, as well as for a wide range of military hardware for Venezuela’s army.
This follows on the heels of previous major weapons supply deals between Russia and Venezuela. In June, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez inked a deal with Moscow to buy five diesel-fueled submarines for an estimated $3 billion during a trip to Russia. The subs are described by Russian media as “silent killers” because they are among the quietest available in the world, and are armed with missiles that have a range of 7,500 miles. With the subs also comes a submarine maintenance base and training for crews.
Russia also plans to build Chavez two factories to manufacture ak-103 rifles and ammunition by 2010, giving Venezuela’s army a domestic source of weapons, munitions and the technology to manufacture them as well.
Last year, Chavez raised eyebrows after purchasing 24 fighter planes, 100,000 ak-103 rifles and more than 50 helicopters from Russia. Chavez said he made the purchases to beef up his country’s military in anticipation of a potential U.S. invasion.
While such arms deals may not directly constitute a threat to the United States militarily, it is a threat to U.S. influence and allies in the region.
Chavez’s policies obviously do not align with U.S. interests in the area. He has repeatedly labeled the U.S. an enemy and called for Latin America to break economic and political ties with its northern neighbor. A stronger military for Venezuela will mean a louder and more forceful Chavez, who has already stirred up much anti-American sentiment in the region.
Venezuela’s arms buildup could also lead to an arms race in Latin America, which would further limit U.S. influence in the region.
For some time now, Venezuela has been effectively building opposition to the U.S. in Latin America. If the U.S. is rapidly losing influence in its own backyard, what does that say about America’s ability to project power and influence around the world?For more information on the direction Latin America is headed with leaders such as Hugo Chavez, read “Latin America Swings Left.”