CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 26 (UPI) -- Russians arms inventories in Venezuela are blighted by widespread malfunction, breakdown and an endemic lack of operational readiness, opposition critics said.
Amid data indicating Venezuela is now Russia's largest weapons customer in Latin America, thanks largely to deals reached before former President Hugo Chavez died of cancer in March, the Venezuelan military is having to cope with useless military hardware on a large scale, El Universal reported, citing opposition critics.
There was no immediate official comment from the administration of President Nicolas Maduro. independent verification of opposition claims on the parlous state of Venezuelan military is hard to come by.
"Shadiness is the key word when referring to the information on the weapons sold to Venezuela by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's government," El Universal said.
Russia will continue military-technical cooperation with Venezuela regardless of who takes over power in the Latin American country after Chavez's death, RIA-Novosti said in March.
Throughout 2012, Chavez actively shopped for Russian tanks, helicopters and air force aircraft, Russian and Venezuelan news media reported at the time.
El Universal said the late president's orders to buy Russian weaponry have been followed. "The Bolivarian Armed Forces equipped themselves with rifles, tanks, aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery systems to such an extent that [Venezuela] became Moscow's top buyer," El Universal said, in a reference to Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution that Maduro has vowed to continue.
"Have they been appropriate purchases? Is such equipment able to operate as intended when the time comes?" El Universal asked. "It does not seem so: some alarming information has just been leaked and we have already seen helicopters fall."
The newspaper cited Russian and independent reports Venezuela became Russia's top arms buyer in Latin America in 2012.
Out of $14.5 billion of arms Russia sold in the region over 12 years, it earned $11 billion from purchases made by Caracas, El Universal said.
Venezuelan purchases included 24 Sukhoi multirole fighter jets, about 50 helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov AK 103 rifles, El Universal said citing published data.
While Russian supplies are on track, "what has been acquired? And even more important: what are the conditions of items bought?"
Opposition National Assembly members Stalin Gonzalez and Tomas Guanipa said they obtained information on the status of weapons inventories imported from Russia.
"We count on reliable data which indicate that -- as a whole -- almost every weapon that has been bought from Russia presents or has presented problems and failures," Gonzalez said.
"Some of them have -- of course --been fixed, but it is not generally the case. And such failures go beyond comprehension."
Gonzalez and Guanipa are members of a National Assembly standing committee on defense and security.
"To a certain extent, it is appropriate to claim that Venezuela has mostly bought obsolete equipment," Guanipa said.
Citizen Control non-government organization said it counted among "broken" Russian equipment six helicopters. Military crashes led to the deaths of 31 people, Citizen Control said in a report cited by El Universal.
Gonzalez said some of the monitored Russian equipment suffered from software failure and unsuitability for Venezuela's hot weather conditions.
He called for defense administration and Venezuelan military commanders to be questioned in the National Assembly.