Venezuela's Chavez touts $2.2 billion arms deal with Russia

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between the leftist leader and the conservative government of Colombia, which recently agreed to host US military personnel on its bases.

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After meeting with Russian officials last week, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez announced that Russia will lend his country $2.2 billion to update its military arsenal. The money will be used to purchase 92 T-72 tanks and an S-300 anti-aircraft rocket system.

The announcement comes amid growing tensions between Venezuela and neighboring Colombia. The US recently signed an agreement with Colombia to use several of its military bases as part of an effort that Colombia says will help in the drug war and fighting left-wing guerrillas. Mr. Chávez says the American-Colombian partnership threatens the security of his nation and the region as a whole.

Notably, the new anti-aircraft weapons systems will allow Venezuela to create a multilayer defense system, reports the Russian news agency RIA Novosti. In addition to the S-300 rocket systems, the air defense shield will also have Russian-made Buk-M2 and Pechora air defense systems, each capable of operating a different ranges.

Despite tensions with Colombia, Chávez insists that the new weapons are primarily for the purpose of defending his nation against an attack by the US. In particular, he says that this new anti-aircraft defense system will act as a deterrent to stop the US from bombing Venezuela. Citing his nation's oil and gas reserves, Chávez added that Venezuela must take extreme steps to protect itself, reports the BBC.

A longtime critic of the US, Chávez has accused Washington of planning to attack Venezuela on numerous occasions. Much of the equipment in the Latin American nation's military arsenal was out of date, and the latest agreement with Russia stands to significantly advance Venezuela's military, reports Iran's Press TV.

Russia's Itar Tass news agency reports that in his usual bravado, the Venezuelan president did not make any attempt to obscure the terms of his latest agreement with the Russians in his Sunday presidential newscast, Aló Presidente.

Russia has signed more than $4 billion worth of weapons contracts with Venezuela over the last four years. Chávez has long expressed an interest in building up his nation's military with the help of the Russians. Aside from numerous weapons agreements, the two nations appear to have strong ties. Last November, Venezuelan and Russian forces performed a joint military exercise in the Caribbean, traditionally a US-dominated zone, reports Agence France-Presse.

[Editor's note: The original headline misstated the value of the arms deal.]

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