Venezuela Distributes Russian Arms to Military, Intends More Purchases

President Chavez presided over a ceremony to distribute the first batch of 100,000 Russian AK-103 rifles to officers of his military. During the event, Chavez announced that Venezuela had agreed to purchase 24 Russian Sukhoi fighter jets and is considering to buy more helicopters.

Caracas, Venezuela, June 16, 2006—In a ceremony to mark the arrival and disbursement of a first shipment of 30,000 Russian-made AK-103 assault rifles on Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said that these new weapons were merely for the defense of Venezuela. Chavez also confirmed that an agreement had been reached for Venezuela to purchase 24 Russian Sukhoi-30 fighter jets.

Venezuela first announced the purchase of 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov rifles over a year ago. The remaining 70,000 will be delivered later this year. Venezuela’s purchase agreement also includes license for Venezuela to manufacture its own AK-103 rifles, for which it will build a factory.

The rifles are meant to replace the current armament of aging Belgian FAL rifles, which Venezuela had bought over 40 years ago. Chavez handed over the new weapons to officers of the Presidential Honor Guard and gave the old ones to the newly formed military reserve.

During the ceremony, Chavez said, “the world knows we do not have a plan to attack anyone.” “Those who threaten Venezuela with being a threat are the real threat,” added Chavez, referring to the United States, which has repeatedly argued that Venezuela is engaged in an arms race.

The planned purchase of the Sukhoi-30 fighter jets had originally been announced last month, but Chavez confirmed it during the ceremony and specified his government would buy 24 and is considering buying more Russian helicopters. Venezuela has already agreed to buy 44 transport helicopters for the army last year. The additional batch would be attack helicopters for the air force.

“These are assault helicopters, which are ideal for war of resistance,” said Chavez, adding that the purchase would also include, “a state-of-the-art helicopter maintenance center.”

Two of the Sukhoi-30 fighters will arrive in a few weeks, with the rest to be delivered by the end of the year. According to Chavez, these are the most modern fighter jets in the world and are far more capable than the aging F-16s Venezuela received from the U.S. 20 years ago. Venezuelan officials say they need to replace the F-16s because the U.S. has refused to honor its contract to maintain the jets and has blocked Venezuela’s efforts to let third parties, such as Israel, to maintain the jets.

In an event on Thursday Chavez insisted again that Venezuela is not involved in an arms race as Bush administration officials have repeatedly claimed. He went on to say that of the $1.1 trillion dollars spent on arms in the world, the U.S. spends 48% of that figure, while the next largest country spends merely 5% of that figure. In comparison, Venezuela spends a tiny fraction of that.