Russian weapons for Venezuela

Shadiness is the key word when referring to the information on the weapons sold to Venezuela by Putin's Government. Opposition deputies obtained alarming data regarding such purchases

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tries the Russian defense air system ZU-23; one of those which seem to be suffering failures (AFP)
Saturday November 23, 2013  12:00 AM
The order to buy Russian weaponry has been followed: the Bolivarian Armed Forces equipped themselves with rifles, tanks, aircraft, armored vehicles and artillery systems to such an extent that it became Moscow's top buyer. Notwithstanding, have they been appropriate purchases? Is such equipment able to operate as intended when the time comes? It does not seem so: some alarming information has just been leaked and we have already seen helicopters fall.

On May 2001 everything started to be arranged. Then Russian and Venezuelan Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chávez agreed to develop and better the relationship between their countries in more than one way and intending to make huge deals, such as the creation of "a new multi-polar world." And in such environment, weapons play a significant role.

As it is well-known, from the very beginning of his government late President Chávez really worked hard to sever the traditional military ties between Venezuela and the United States of America. The Bolivarian revolution could not by any means depend on the Empire, that is and was obvious. New providers were required. On May 14, 2001, the first paper of technical-military cooperation with the Russian Federation was signed, and the following day, another one referred to military intelligence was signed; the latter one included even training of Venezuelan specialists in Russian territory. In December, the relationship turned even more formal: the High-Level Intergovernmental Russian-Venezuelan Commission (CIAN) was launched. And that way, Venezuelan and Russia continued to strengthen their relationship until now, when the bond is quite strong.

Last May, it was disclosed that the Bolivarian Government of Venezuela is the top buyer of Russian weapons in Latin America. Anatoly Isaikin, Director of Rosoboronexport, the state-owned Russian exporter, placed Venezuela in the list of special clients: out of the USD 14.5 billion sold in the region in 12 years, USD 11 billion correspond to purchases ordered from Caracas. By March, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute placed Russia as the main supplier of weapons for Venezuela. For its part, Venezuela was the largest buyer of Russian weapons in the Latin American region, in addition to its purchase orders made to other sellers.

It is estimated that between 2005 and 2007 only, purchase contracts consisting of more than USD 4 billion were signed with Russian partners. These purchases included acquisition of the famous Sukhoi  planes (24 of them), around 50 helicopters in three different models (MI 17, M 26 and M 35) and a lot of 100,000 Kalashnikov AK 103 rifles.

In a report issued by NGO Control Ciudadano (Citizen's Control) named "Venezuela. Adquisiciones de sistemas de armas y material militar 2005-2012" (Venezuela. Procurement of weapon systems and military supply 2005-2012), it is clearly explained: "In 2004, Chávez set three strategic lines in order to define the new Venezuelan military doctrine: Integral Defense of the Nation. The first strategic line, Strengthening of Military Power, involved a plan of military re-equipment, which included both the procurement of new weaponry and the recovery of the existing one. The main purpose was to find alternative sources for military material supply, and to establish a local weapon-producing industry."

So, the re-equipment was done; and it is on track. But, what has been acquired? And even more important: What are the conditions of items bought?

Battle tanks are not operating

Opposition Deputies Stalin González (UNT) and Tomás Guanipa (PJ), who belong to the National Assembly (AN) Standing Committee of Defense and Security, are in possession of information regarding the status of such weapons imported by 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," González asserted. "Some of them have –of course- been fixed, but it is not generally the case. And such failures go beyond comprehension."

"To a certain extent, it is appropriate to claim that Venezuela has mostly bought obsolete equipment, "Guanipa warned."And the information we handle sort of verifies the denunciations made in the past in this regard." González speaks his mind: "According to the official data we count on, it can be concluded, for instance, that the Sukhoi aircraft seem to be in good working order; it looks like an appropriate buy; however, we cannot say the same in regards to the helicopters, from which there is at least one model that is not operating at all."

NGO Citizen Control made a recount of broken Russian helicopters up to now: it concerns six of them; five helicopters are Mi-17V-5 model. And it also concerns something worse than a wasteful investment: 31 people have died.

It is time to render account

"The leaked information we have regarding the military Russian equipment is alarming," Deputy González indicates. "One wonders: how come they purchased such defective equipment? There is equipment with constant software failures, with structural problems, with no communication system installed, even some armored equipment that suffers failures when operating in a very hot environment; there are also combat vehicles which run out of battery in the midst of their operation, claims because of lack of replacement parts, among other things."

The report issued by Citizen Control highlights the lack of concise information about the buy of weapons: "...it has been impossible to accurately determine the quantity, model and cost of military equipment acquired by Venezuela in 2005-2012, since the previous National Assembly agreed to decree confidentiality of the military agreements reached with Russia and Belarus." And they – as an organization- also indicate one of their concerns: the "shadiness" in procurement and the "operational problems that some systems have presented."

In order to clear these doubts and such information, it is necessary to request the help of the Minister for Defense. And that is to be proposed by deputies at the National Assembly: asking the Bolivarian Armed Forces whether the money of this country has been well invested or not.

Translated by Adrián Valera