Venezuela acquired 1,800 antiaircraft missiles from Russia last year

Juan Forero, reporting at the Washington Post,
Venezuela acquired 1,800 Russian antiaircraft missiles in ‘09

Russia delivered at least 1,800 shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to Venezuela in 2009, U.N. arms control data show, despite vigorous U.S. efforts to stop President Hugo Chavez’s stridently anti-American government from acquiring the weapons.

The United States feared that the missiles could be funneled to Marxist guerrillas fighting Colombia’s pro-American government or Mexican drug cartels, concerns expressed in U.S. diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks and first reported in the Spanish newspaper El Pais.

It had been unclear how many of the Russian SA-24 missiles were delivered to Venezuela, though the transfer itself was not secret. Chavez showed off a few dozen at a military parade in April 2009, saying they could “deter whatever aerial aggression against our country.” A high-level Russian delegation told American officials in Washington in July of that year that 100 of the missiles had been delivered in the first quarter of 2009.

The Russians themselves went on the record,

Then earlier this year, Russia reported to the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, which records the transnational sale of weaponry, that the deal totaled 1,800 missiles.

What kind of weapons are we talking about?

Matt Schroeder, a missile expert at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said the missiles are among the most sophisticated in the world and can down aircraft from 19,000 feet

Russia is certainly happy to oblige Hugo Chavez’s armaments race,

The database also shows that from 2006 through 2008, Russia delivered to Venezuela 472 missiles and launching mechanisms, 44 attack helicopters and 24 combat aircraft, purchases funded by Venezuelan oil sales.

Secret American cables said that the United States was concerned about the Chavez government’s acquisition of Russian arms, which also included attack helicopters, Sukhoi fighter planes and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The Bolivarian Revolution has some evil bedfellows: the FARC and the drug cartels,

A cable from Washington to Moscow dated Feb. 14, 2009, said FARC computer files seized by Colombia’s army indicated that Venezuela tried to facilitate arms market deals for the rebels. It expressed fear that missiles acquired by the FARC, which is mired in the drug trade, could wind up with Mexican cartels that “are actively seeking to acquire powerful and highly sophisticated weapons.”

As I have previously blogged, the anti-aircraft missiles were paid in part by a $2 billion loan from Russia which also went towards the purchase of 92 tanks. This was not the first loan from Russia, either.

You can fool yourself into believing that Hugo Chavez is a clown who will be out of power “sometime soon”, and that he represents no peril to the region. Instead, every move Chavez makes consolidates power on himself, and his actions will continue to represent a threat to his neighbors.

Cross-posted at The Green Room

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