Venezuela: Chavez buys 30,000 Russian AKs

Bush just has two years to go. Will he really get around to invading Venezuela? Chavez isn’t hedging his bets. From Reuters, June 3:

CARACAS – Venezuela received a shipment of 30,000 new Russian rifles on Saturday, weeks after Washington restricted U.S. arms sales to Caracas over concerns about President Hugo Chavez’s ties to Cuba and Iran.

Venezuela says the AK103 Kalashnikov rifles and 25 million rounds — the first lot of 100,000 weapons — are part of efforts to modernize its military, but the U.S. government has opposed the arms purchases it believes could destabilize the region.

Allied with Cuba, Chavez is locked in an increasingly tense standoff with Washington, which accuses the self-styled socialist revolutionary of eroding democracy and using Venezuela’s oil wealth to muscle in on his South American neighbors.

Chavez, who says Washington wants to oust him or invade Venezuela, has reduced military cooperation with the United States and ordered officers and civilian reservists to train for a possible guerrilla war against U.S. troops.

“This is another defeat we’ve given to U.S. imperialists. They just can’t touch us,” Chavez told a rally of students late on Saturday. “We don’t want war, we are not going to attack anyone. We are just preparing to defend our blessed land, our nation and our revolution.”

Washington last month banned U.S. arms sales to Chavez’s government because of jitters about his ties with Havana and Tehran and what it called his inaction against Marxist FARC guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. He rejects those charges.

Defense Minister Adm. Orlando Maniglia said earlier that the rifles, part of a multimillion-dollar arms deal, would replace aging FAL weapons. He said all 100,000 rifles would be in Venezuela before the end of the year and Russia would help Venezuela build plants to make its own Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition.

First elected in 1998, Chavez says his ideas for a revolution for the poor counter U.S. influence in South America and he has bolstered energy ties with Russia, China and Cuba to curb Venezuela’s traditional reliance on the United States.

The U.S. government moved earlier this year to block Spain’s attempts to sell $2 billion in military ships and planes to Chavez and opposed a deal for Brazilian jets because they contained U.S.-made military technology.

Angered by Washington’s restrictions, Chavez says he could buy Sukhoi fighters from Russia instead and has warned he could sell his U.S.-made F-16 jets to China or Cuba. Venezuela has already purchased Russian attack helicopters this year.

“Sukhoi 30 jets made in Russia will soon be passing over our heads,” Chavez said. “Our pilots have already been flying them in Moscow. The Sukhoi will be arriving here soon.”

See our last report on Venezuela.