Russian business daily Kommersant said last week that during his visit to Russia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez could finalize a deal to purchase Russian diesel submarines for the Venezuelan Navy. The contract reportedly is for the supply of five Project 636 Kilo-class diesel submarines and four state-of-the-art Project 677 Amur submarines.
"Most likely, [Venezuela] will buy five Project 636 submarines with missile systems..., but it could end up buying nine [submarines]," said Konstantin Makiyenko, Deputy Director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST).
The expert said the multi-billion dollar contract could be split into two or three parts, and include construction of submarine bases and training of submarine crews.
He also said the future deal would not be limited to procurement of submarines, but could include the purchase of advanced Tor-M1 air defense missile systems.
"It might be a multiple-deal contract...and in addition to submarines Venezuela will purchase Tor-M1 systems," Makiyenko said, adding that the country has long been seeking to acquire coastal anti-ship and air defense complexes "that the country desperately needs at present."
The South American country has been vigorously pursuing modernization of its naval fleet and coastal defenses to counter a possible U.S. blockade of its oil fields and prepare for direct military confrontation with Washington.
Russia has repeatedly stated that it would actively participate in the modernization of the Venezuelan armed forces until 2013.
In 2005-2006, Venezuela ordered weaponry from Russia worth $3.4 billion, including 24 Su-30MK2V Flanker fighters, Tor-M1 air defense missile systems, Mi-17B multi-role helicopters, Mi-35 Hind E attack helicopters and Mi-26 Halo heavy transport helicopters.
The country also purchased 100,000 AK-103 Kalashnikov assault rifles from Russia in 2005.
With the addition of arms contracts signed in 2006-beginning 2007, Venezuela has become the world's second largest importer of Russian weaponry after Algeria, which signed arms deals with Russia worth $7.5 billion.
The submarine contract or any other bilateral arms deals, if concluded, could become an additional irritant in the already testy relations between Moscow and Washington.
U.S. authorities have been increasingly concerned about the intensifying partnership between Russia and Venezuela, the world's leading oil producers. Washington has accused their leaderships of failing to uphold democratic values.
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