Russian may sell $5 billion worth of weapons to Venezuela, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said after a visit to the South American nation.
Putin met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas last week to discuss oil, defence and nuclear energy cooperation, although no new no arms agreements were signed.
The United States expressed concern about possible arms proliferation following such a deal with Venezuela, one it’s most prominent foes in the region.
Chavez says his growing arsenal is aimed at countering a planned increase in the US military forces in neighbouring Colombia, Washington’s closest ally in Latin America.
“Our delegation has just returned from Venezuela and the overall volume of orders could exceed $5 billion,” Putin was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies at a meeting with arms industry officials.
Putin said the figure included $2.2 billion in credit lines for Russian arms received by Chavez during his eighth visit to Moscow in September, including T-72 tanks and the S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missile system, RIA news agency reported.
The reports did not give any further details.
In Washington, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley told a news briefing:
“We’re hard pressed to see what legitimate defence needs Venezuela has for this equipment.”
“If Venezuela is going to increase its military hardware, we certainly don’t want to see this hardware migrate to other parts of the hemisphere.”
In recent years, Venezuela has bought more than $4 billion worth of weapons from Russia, from Sukhoi jet fighters to Kalashnikov assault rifles.
During his Moscow visit in September, Chavez recognized the independence of two pro-Russian rebel territories in Georgia. President Dmitry Medvedev said then that Russia would supply Venezuela with all the arms it asked for.
Chavez wants to reinforce the Venezuelan military with Russian missiles, tanks and diesel submarines. He says he wants to resist what he calls US imperialism in Latin America.
Pic: T72 Tanks