Russia Dismisses US “Concerns” about Weapons Sales to Venezuela

Russian diplomats said that US concerns over Russian weapons sales to Venezuela are misplaced and suggest that bias may be involved, as the US is eager to limit its competitors in the arms trade.

Caracas, February 11, 2005—Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian weapons sales to Venezuela “do not go beyond any international norms and obligations.” Lavrov said this in response to U.S. “concerns” that State Department spokesperson Adam Ereli reiterated yesterday about Venezuela’s purchase of 100,000 Russian AK-47 assault rifles and several helicopters.

An article published by the Washington Times reported yesterday that the Bush administration had sent a secret letter of complaint to the Russian Embassy in Washington, about the arms deal. According to the U.S. State Department, the Bush administration fears that the assault rifles could fall into the hands of Colombian rebel forces, since they believe that the Chavez government enjoys close ties to these.

A Russian diplomatic source told the news agency Interfax that, “Moscow was surprised to hear about the U.S. State Department’s concerns in relation to the possible shipment of Kalashnikov assault rifles from Russia to Venezuela.”

“In relation to this, we would like to note that Russia, like any other state, has the right to develop military-technical cooperation with any country not under arms trade sanctions of the UN or other international organizations,” the source said.

Saying that Venezuela purchased weapons from NATO countries, a Russian Foreign Ministry official quoted by Reuters said, “No one seems to be raising questions about the legality of those arms sales.” “Concerns that specifically Russian weapons could end up in terrorists’ hands look unfounded and, one may say, biased,” he added.

According to a Russian military contractor quoted by Interfax, Russia has been expanding its arms sales in recent years and so it sees U.S. complaints of this sort as nothing more than an effort by the world’s largest arms merchant to squeeze out a potential competitor.

The Venezuelan government has repeatedly said that the arms purchase falls within the normal renewal of its arsenal and has nothing to do with a regional arms race and are intended exclusively for the Venezuelan armed forces. Venezuela’s Vice-President, José Vicente Rangel, said a few days ago, with regard to the concern that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands, “This same argument could be applied to any other country in the same circumstances.” “The destination of the military equipment that Venezuela acquires is guaranteed,” he added.