Russia Rejects US Pressure not to Sell Jets to Venezuela and Welcomes Chávez

President Hugo Chávez was delighted yesterday when Russia rejected US pressure to reconsider plans to sign arms sales agreements with Venezuela.

Caracas , Venezuela, Julio 26, 2006—President Hugo Chávez was delighted yesterday when Russia rejected US pressure to reconsider plans to sign arms sales agreements with Venezuela.

The deals, purported to be worth one billion US dollars, involve the purchase of at least 22 sukhoi-30 Russian jet fighters that will replace Venezuela’s aging F-16s. Also on the menu are around the same number of helicopters and a number of other smaller agreements.

Russia said it saw no reason to take advice from the United States. And while it has welcomed Chávez with open arms, the US government is upset over the deals. Tom Casey, the US Department of State spokesperson said, "We have expressed our concern to the Russian Government and encouraged them to reconsider the sale."

He added that his government felt the deal would not help stability in South America and that the deal would go beyond Venezuela’s basic defensive needs.

However, in the end it was to no avail. Russia was never likely to bow to US pressure, especially given their resurgence as an international power. A “multi-polar world,” which Chavez has been advocating, is probably even more in the interests of the Russian government than those of Venezuela.

Chávez’ response on hearing Russia’s comments said it all: “I would like to thank Russia, the producer of armaments, because Russia has helped to sever the blockade that was tied by the United States around Venezuela. American imperialism wants to hold the world in its fist, but it will not succeed in this.”

Venezuela-Russia cooperation is expected in the military, metallurgy and energy sectors. Upon landing in Russia, Chávez had three days in front of him, his first port of call being Volgograd, the former Stalingrad, where he visited a memorial, a tractor plant, and the Russian Metallurgical Piping Company.

Chávez also announced his interest in signing an agreement with Russia for a new factory that would supply materials for the Gasoducto del Sur, the planned South American gas pipeline, which would be a joint Russian-Venezuelan project. “We are open to the signing of an agreement for the construction, in Venezuela, of a pipe-engineering factory that would operate using Venezuelan steel and Russian technology,” said Chavez.

Yesterday he visited Izhevsk in the autonomous Republic of Udmurtia, a city renowned in Russia for its defence industries, where he visited a Kalashnikov rifle factory and announced Venezuela’s intention to open a similar rifle factory in Maracay, Venezuela. It is expected to begin producing the first rifles in around two years’ time. Pre-empting criticism of the decision he said, “I consider it the state’s responsibility to equip and train the armed forces of the nation. And that is all I’m doing, nothing more.”

Venezuela already has a contract for the supply of 100,000 rifles from Russia, of which 30,000 have been delivered thus far.

Today will be the final leg of his Russian tour, when he will meet with President Vladmir Putin in Moscow.