Venezuela to Buy Russian Military Planes

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez confirmed confrimed an earlier announcement that Venezuela will buy Russian military planes in light of U.S. military sanctions.

Caracas, Venezuela,May 26, 2006—Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez reiterated an earlierannouncement that Venezuelawill buy fighter planes from Russiain light of U.S. military sanctions.

Last week, the U.S. announced weapons sanctions on Venezuelafor lack of cooperation in the war against terrorism. The Chavez government andsome analysts criticized the move as political, rather than because ofuncooperative actions on Venezuela’spart. The policy, however, seemed redundant, as the UShad already put “Foreign Military Sales” sanctions on Venezuela inSeptember of last year because of failure to fight trafficking in persons.

“We can’t maintain[our F16s] anymore. Why? Because the parts are American," said Chavez at apress conference in Miraflores. "Now what am I going to do? Buy someAntonovs from Russiamodern transport planes." Venezuelaearlier also expressed interested in Russia’sSu-30 fighter jets.

Russiaconfirmed that it would be willing to sell the planes to Venezuela. “Thereare no legal restrictions on arms exports to Venezuela. I mean of courseconventional weapons," Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told journalists in St. Petersburg. "Venezuela isnot on any sanctions or restricted regime list and has the right to buy anyunrestricted weaponry in any country."

However, U.S. StateDepartment spokesperson Scott McCormack said that F16 maintence parts would notbe affected by the sanctions. “Previously authorized licenses for spare parts,maintenance, that sort of thing are not affected by Venezuelahaving been put on this list,” he said, noting the contracts were normallygood for four years, and Venezuela’shad been signed in 2005.

However, in recentmonths, Venezuelahas said it has been unable to buy replacement parts for its F16s. According toVenezuelan official last November, while the country had been able to obtainreplacement parts for the F16s flight systems, the US had not sent the country partsfor the weapons systems. At the time, U.S. officials said they were sending theparts according to their contract with Venezuela.

The U.S., which is able to veto all sales of militaryequipment containing, also recently blocked a Spanish sale of 12 unarmed military aircraft and4 patrol boats as well as a Brazilian sale of boats to the South Americancountry. Today, Venezuelaand Spain finalized theagreement on the boats, apparently replacing the U.S. components with Europeantechnology. The plane portion of the deal is still pending, and the Brazilianagreement appears to have died. The Russian sale appears to be different, inthat the primary use of the weapons is not transport or surveillance.

U.S. officials had justified the vetos calling Venezuela a “destabilizing force inthe region” and warning that it could start a local arms race. Venezuelanofficials have countered that inability to buy surveillance equipment willhinder the country in its efforts to combat drugs, and now terrorism. Also, Venezuela’s military expenditures are about half that of its neighbor Colombia, both in absolute numbers and relative to the size of its economy.