Venezuela’s Chavez Hints Acquisition of Russian Fighter Jets

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez hinted on Sunday, June 4, that his military may soon acquire new Russian fighter jets. Earlier on Saturday, June 3, it was announced that Venezuela received the first shipment of 30,000 Russian-made Kalashnikov rifles.

As MosNews has reported on several occasions, Chavez has been talking about purchase of Russian Sukhoi Su-30 and Su-35 fighter jets to replace a fleet of U.S.-made F-16s. Venezuela has had trouble maintaining its F-16 fleet because the United States refuses to sell parts for upgrades. However, the talk of acquisition of Russian jets has never gone beyond talk.

On Sunday, however, Chavez said in his weekly TV and radio address: “I’m going tell you something in advance _ it’s very probable … that on July 5 Sukhoi 30 planes will be crossing the skies of Caracas.”

The U.S. recently announced an arms embargo against Venezuela, accusing it of failing to cooperate in counterterrorism efforts. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on June 4 that his country would still be willing to sell arms, including fighter jets, to Venezuela and that international law does not restrict Moscow from making such shipments to the South American country. If completed, the fighter deal would be the latest in a series of sizable Russian arms purchases by Venezuela.

Despite Washington’s objections, Caracas is buying 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles from Russia _ a first shipment of 30,000 arrived Saturday. Venezuelan officials also have announced plans to set up factories to produce Kalashnikovs under license. Venezuela is also buying 15 Russian helicopters for $200 million, and officials say they hope to buy 18 more.

Chavez said earlier that he planned to discuss a deal to buy fighter jets in an upcoming trip to Moscow.