Russian government leaders and state-run defense manufacturers redoubled efforts to take a larger slice of arms buying by governments on the continent as demand for weapons and equipment soared with commodity exporters earning more and military procurers clamoring for replacement for obsolete inventories.
Arms sales in most of Latin America, dormant for more than a decade, picked up as governments with trade surpluses revived plans for military modernization.
Mutual tensions among neighbors, as between Colombia and Venezuela, also contributed to increased arms sales.
Russia's state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said it expects to make arms sales worth at least $9.5 billion this year, a figure often repeated when Russian exporters showed up in large numbers at the Latin America Aero and Defense 2011 show in Rio de Janeiro last month.
Russia is the world's second largest arms exporter after the United States.
"Rosoboronexport's portfolio [of orders] is about $38.5 billion; this is the target we hope to meet in three years," company head Anatoly Isaikin said. Russian arms exports in 2010 totaled $8.6 billion.
Industry sources said Russia moved into a void created by the diminishing presence of U.S. defense exporters, U.S. preoccupation with geopolitical agenda elsewhere and congressional constraints on dealing with several of the Latin American countries with widely reported lapses of governance and protection of citizens' rights against narcotics gangs, organized crime and governmental abuses of power.
Russian participants at the LAAD 2011 show said the arms market in Latin America showed a great potential for growth.
"The arms market of Latin America is expansive and promising," said Sergei Goreslavsky, the head of marketing at Russian Technologies State Corp., in comments cited by the Ria Novosti news agency.
"Brazil holds a leading position among our partners in terms of its potential for the acquisition of (Russian) military hardware and equipment," he added.
Russian exhibitors showcased more than 300 types of weaponry at the arms show and continued talks with prospective clients after the event.
The Russians showed off combat aircraft and helicopters, including the Sukhoi Su-35 and Su-30MK2 multirole fighters and Ka-52 Hokum B attack helicopters, and the S-400, Tor-M2E, Buk-M2E, Tunguska-M1, Pantsyr-S1, and Igla-S air defense systems, weapons and missiles.
"Modern warfare, as the recent events in Northern Africa confirmed, is conducted mainly from the air," Goreslavsky said. "That's why the purchase of advanced air defense systems offered by Russia becomes a serious consideration."
"We are hoping to gain some ground in this direction," he said in comments cited by Defense Technology News.
Rosoboronexport activities in Latin America indicated the company has established lucrative arms trade ties with Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay.
Isaikin said Russia aimed to hold on to its position as the world's second largest arms exporter.
"We are firmly in the second position, after the United States, and we have no intention of losing it," he said.
Aircraft and related equipment account for 43 percent of Russian arms exports, ships and naval equipment 22 percent, arms and military equipment for ground forces 10 percent and air defense systems some 13 percent, he added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had been boosting its arms sales to Latin American states, a trend also seen in other parts of the world.
"We have recently increased supplies of Russian arms in various regions of the world, including Latin America," Lavrov added. But he said that Russia's interests in the region were "purely commercial."
Last year, Russia clinched a helicopter deal with Argentina which it called "historic" as it was the first time the Argentine military bought Russian military hardware. The contract provides for the delivery of two Mi-17 helicopters to the Argentine air force.
Rosoboronexport is in talks with Brazil on setting up a joint venture for manufacturing light-armor police vehicles in the Latin American country.
The GAZ-2330 Tigr vehicle, manufactured by Russia's Arzamas machinery plant in the Nizhny Novgorod region, was exhibited at the LAAD show.
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