Russia lends Venezuela $2.2 bln to buy tanks, anti-aircraft missiles

Russia has agreed to lend Venezuela over $2 billion to purchase tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles.

Russia lends Venezuela $2.2 bln to buy tanks, anti-aircraft missiles

Russia has agreed to lend Venezuela over $2 billion to purchase tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles in deals that show Moscow's commitment to working closely with President Hugo Chavez.

Chavez said on Sunday the purchases agreed upon on a trip to Moscow last week included 92 tanks and an S-300 missile system that can shoot down fighter jets and cruise missiles.

Two years ago, Russia agreed to sell the same S-300 system to Iran but has dragged its feet over delivering the weapons amid U.S. and Israeli pressure.

Chavez, who fears the United States could attack Venezuela for its oil reserves, also reiterated that Moscow was helping Venezuela develop nuclear energy but said he had no intention of developing an atomic bomb.

"Let me be clear, Venezuela has no plans to invade anybody, or to be aggressive towards anybody," Chavez said on his weekly television show after announcing the $2.2 billion loan. He did not say how much the new weapons cost.

A major oil exporter, Venezuela's finances have suffered this year because of lower crude prices. Chavez said Venezuela needed to borrow the money for defense spending to avoid cuts in education and health.

In recent years, Venezuela has bought over $4 billion in weapons from Russia including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets.

Chavez says the US base plan for Colombia could be used to launch an attack on Venezuela and increases the risk of war in South America.

Last year, he ordered tanks to the Colombian border in a dispute over a Colombian bombing raid in Ecuadorean territory.

Nuclear power

Chavez, who visited Moscow last week, said Venezuela was now buying 92 Russian T-72 tanks along with several types of missiles to build an air defense system.

He mentioned the Buk-M2 and S-300 surface-to-air missile systems and the Smerch rocket launcher. The S-300, also known as the SA-20, is an extremely effective anti-aircraft system capable of tracking 100 targets at once.

It can be used with missiles with a range of about 125 miles (200 km) and can engage six targets simultaneously.

"With these rockets it's going to be very difficult for foreign planes to come and bomb us," Chavez said.

It was not immediately clear when Venezuela would receive the new weapons.

Chavez repeated on Sunday his commitment to developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes with the help of Russia and said he was opposed to nuclear weapons.

"With Russia we have created an atomic energy commission and I tell the world -- Venezuela is going to start developing nuclear energy, but we are not going to make an atomic bomb."

Russia agreed last year to help restart Venezuela's nuclear program. Venezuela has one mothballed experimental nuclear reactor built decades ago. Experts say it will take many years for the South American country to produce atomic energy.


Reuters

Last Mod: 14 Eylül 2009, 13:19
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