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Russian-Venezuelan arms deal sparks concerns

Russian-Venezuelan arms deal sparks concerns
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez before their meeting in Moscow Kremlin on July 27, 2006. Putin and Chavez signed multibillion dollar contracts to supply Venezuela with for fighter jets and helicopters. (UPI Photo/Anatoli Zhdanov) | License Photo

MOSCOW, April 8 (UPI) -- Russia will sell weapons worth around $5 billion to Venezuela, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, increasing fears of an arms race in Latin America.

After returning from a recent trip to Caracas where he met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Putin said this week in Moscow that his delegation had clinched agreements for arms deals worth $5 billion with Venezuela.

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The figure includes a $2.2 billion loan Moscow offered to Caracas, Defensenews.com reports. While Putin did not say when the agreement would be finalized or how it would look in detail, he noted the orders would be distributed among 13 Russian defense companies.

The latest order agreement would put Venezuela among the top Russian arms clients.

The country during the past five years has ordered from Russia weapons worth around $4.4 billion. They include 24 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighter jets, 50 attack and transport helicopters from Russia's Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, a dozen missile systems and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, Defensenews.com writes.

Both nations in 2006 signed a deal to build a plant to produce Kalashnikovs in Venezuela, but that plan has not materialized yet.

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Experts say the new orders would likely be posted for Russian tanks (the T-72 and its successor, the highly modern T-90, both built by Uralvagonzavod) and anti-aircraft missile systems such as the SA-20 Gargoyle produced by Russia's NPO Almaz.

Washington is worried by the Venezuelan military expansion and potentially arising black markets in Latin America. The region's leaders have also warned of what they fear will turn into a serious arms race.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a bitter enemy of Chavez, at the World Economic Forum for Latin America this week called the increased military spending in the region "enormously harmful."

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute would agree. In its latest study on the global arms market unveiled last month, it found that weapons sales to Latin America were 150 percent higher during the last five years compared with the beginning of the millennium.

This is due to a significant upswing in both military spending and an almost competitive behavior when ordering arms, SIPRI said.

"This clearly shows we need improved transparency and confidence-building measures to reduce tension in the region," said Mark Bromley, SIPRI's Latin America expert.

SIPRI has been compiling data on the international arms trade since the 1950s. Its online database is the most extensive available to the public.

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