According to unofficial reports, Russia and Venezuela signed a new framework agreement Wednesday on delivery of Russian air defense systems, tanks and military transport planes to the Latin American country.
"The new agreement, most likely, involves purchases of Igla man-portable air defense systems, Il-76MD military transport planes and T-90 main battle tanks," said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
Pukhov has estimated that Venezuela could spend $5 billion or more over the next 10 years on Russian military equipment.
He said that after the Swedish Saab announced in 2006 it could not continue sales of portable anti-aircraft systems to Venezuela because of a U.S. arms embargo against President Hugo Chavez's government, Russian Igla missiles became the obvious choice for the Venezuelan army.
The embargo also means Caracas experiences difficulties in maintaining a fleet of U.S.-made C-130 Hercules military transport planes. At present, Russia has several Il-76 transport planes available for sale after a deal with China fell through due to technical problems.
According to Pukhov, Venezuela could be interested in the purchase of Russian T-90 main battle tanks because of the excellent value for money they provide.
A spokesman for Uralvagonzavod, a Urals-based manufacturer of T-90s, said the Russian tanks are superior to foreign models of the same class in terms of firepower, maneuverability, speed and armor protection, but sell for almost half the price.
The Uralvagonzavod official said, though, that the plant would have to operate at full capacity to meet outstanding orders, so it would be a few years before the company was able to produce tanks under a new foreign contract.
In 2005-2006, Venezuela bought more than 50 combat helicopters, 24 Su-30MK2 fighters, 12 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems and 100,000 AK-103 rifles from Russia. Current contracts are worth about $4 billion, according to various sources.
Wednesday's reported deal could see Russia become the main supplier of military equipment to Venezuela. Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington, has focused his foreign policy on bolstering ties with countries outside the U.S. sphere of influence since coming to power nine years ago.
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