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Friday, June 16, 2006

Venezuela to purchase Sukhoi fighter jets

ISN SECURITY WATCH (Friday, 16 June 2006: 11.35 CET) – Venezuela is planning to purchase 30 new Russian Sukhoi fighter jets this year amid calls from Washington to ban the sale.

The SU-30 jets are intended to replace US-made F-16 fighter jets since the US administration refused to sell parts to Caracas.

"First we are going to buy 24 Sukhoi S-30s and we are going to leave open the possibility of a future acquisition of Sukhoi S-35s," local news agencies quoted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as telling hundreds of soldiers gathered at a military base in Caracas.

Chavez has used surging oil revenues to upgrade the country's military, signing major defense deals with Russia, Spain, and others.

Venezuela has already negotiated the purchase of 100,000 Russian Kalashnikov assault rifles, 30,000 of which already have been delivered. Earlier this month, Russia's state arms exporting company confirmed that talks were under way to manufacture Kalashnikov's in Venezuela.

Last year, Venezuela purchased 15 Russian military transport helicopters at a cost of US$120 million.

In April, Venezuela announced it will purchase ten military transport planes and eight patrol boats from Spain despite Washington's objections and attempts to stop the deal.

In May, Washington banned all commercial and military arms sales to Venezuela, citing Chavez's failure to back global counter-terrorism efforts and take action against rebels operating in neighboring Colombia.

Chavez called the ban insignificant, calling it "imperialism" that "doesn't matter to us."

US-Venezuela relations are at a low point. Chavez accuses the US of planning to invade oil-rich Venezuela, while the US accuses Chavez of working to destabilize the region.

Chavez has also accused the US of breaching an agreement to supply parts for Venezuela's F-16s, leaving Venezuela no choice but to sell the US fighter jets to a third country.

White House officials allege that Chavez is trying to influence other countries in the region and promote his socialism in countries like Bolivia and Peru.
(By ISN Security Watch, news agencies)
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