MOSCOW, March 6 (RIA Novosti) – Russia will continue military-technical cooperation with Venezuela regardless of who takes over power in the Latin American country after the death of its charismatic socialist leader Hugo Chavez, a Russian arms trade source said on Wednesday.
Chavez, 58, died on Tuesday following a two-year tough battle with cancer, leaving the country in a political turmoil.
“Whoever comes to power in Venezuela, our military-technical cooperation will continue because it is aimed primarily at safeguarding the national security of the country,” the source told RIA Novosti.
The official added that some defense contracts with Caracas include the construction of arms factories and servicing centers for military equipment, which helps the development of Venezuela’s economy in general.
“These areas, as a rule, are a priority for any government,” the source said.
Chavez had ambitious military plans, which he began implementing some time ago.
Between 2005 and 2007 Venezuela reached deals to buy $4-billion worth of arms from Russia, including Sukhoi fighter jets, combat helicopters, and over 100,000 light weapons, primarily the famous AK-103 assault rifles and a license to produce them in Venezuela.
Chavez's government also secured a $2.2-billion loan in 2010 to purchase a large batch of Russian weapons for its army, including 92 T-72M1M main battle tanks, about 240 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and BTR-80 armored personnel carriers, and a variety of artillery systems.
The source said that Russian and Venezuelan officials met in Caracas earlier this year and reaffirmed their mutual desire to expand cooperation in a variety of areas, including military-technical, oil exploration and transportation.
According to Russian experts, Venezuela is expected to become the world’s second largest buyer of Russian weaponry after India by 2015.