The Venezuelan government needs new weapons to avoid the fate of the Gaddafi regime, President Hugo Chavez said in an interview last week with Russian business newspaper Kommersant. Russia may soon dispatch S-300 missile systems and other modern weapons to Venezuela, which wants to pay for these armaments with a Russian loan.
A new loan or an old one?
Caracas intends to request a $4 billion loan from Moscow to buy Russian weapons, Chavez said in the Miraflores presidential palace last Wednesday. One wonders which loan he had in mind.
It was announced in fall 2010 that Russia would open a $4 billion credit line for Venezuela, so it is unclear if Caracas will at long last take the money made available last fall to buy Russian-made weapons, or if it is seeking to negotiate a new loan.
According to some analysts, the money allocated last fall was not spent on armaments but on guarantees for several Russian-Venezuelan investment projects.
Chavez used petrodollars to pay for current Russian arms deliveries. But now that Venezuela wants to thoroughly modernize its army, the new loan may be used to pay for growing weapons imports.
The Venezuelan president has ambitious military plans, which he began implementing some time ago. Reuters reports that Chavez's government has bought at least $5 billion worth of Russian weapons since 2005.
By 2008, it had received 28 Su-30MK2 Flanker-G fighter planes from a plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia's Far East. There are reports that Caracas ordered the planes after a couple of them refueled in midair while making a nonstop flight to Venezuela. The country is also buying Mi-35 Hind large helicopter gunships and low-capacity troop transports and Mi-17 Hip medium transport helicopters.
Caracas has also ordered and is already receiving a large batch of Russian weapons for its army, including 92 72M1M main battle tanks, about 240 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, artillery systems and over 100,000 light weapons, primarily the famous AK-103 assault rifles and a license to produce them in Venezuela.
Talks on military contracts with Venezuela mostly focus on air defense. "We are ready to purchase from our Russian friends the means to create an anti-ballistic defense system to protect the land and naval frontiers," Chavez has told Kommersant.
Caracas has already bought a short-range Tor air defense system. However, as it reportedly wants to overhaul the country's air defense, it may also buy other types of air defense systems, including the medium-range Buk and the long-range S-300 ones.
Furthermore, Russia likely will not supply Venezuela with the traditional S-300PMU-1/PMU-2 system designed by Almaz but rather with the new S-300V made by Antey, the other partner in the Almaz-Antey Corporation.
It is difficult to say exactly what Russia has offered Caracas this time. It may supply whatever is available, like Soviet-made S-300V systems made before 1991, but some factors suggest that Venezuela, along with Turkey, could be among the first foreign countries to receive the latest S-300VM Antey-2500 (NATO reporting name SA-23 Gladiator\Giant) with a range of up to 2,500 km (1,554 miles). This formidable weapon is designed against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, aeroballistic and cruise missiles, strategic and tactical aircraft, as well as ECM platforms and precision weapons.
This would be logical. The S-300V has evolved over the years into a long-range surface-to-air missile system, which is more effective in the event of a massive air assault, and this is exactly what Chavez needs.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.