Colombians Seek to Buy Russian Helicopters

Colombian Vice President Francisco Santos said Thursday during a visit to Russia that his U.S.-allied country wanted to buy fighter and transport helicopters and radars as it broadens its sources of defense equipment.

"Countries should diversify their military arsenals to ensure a change in political conditions doesn't harm one's ability to buy weapons," Santos told reporters in Moscow. Colombia wants to buy five Russian Mi-17 military-transport helicopters among other equipment, he said.

The Colombian vice president, who met Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov this week, said Colombia's ties with the United States did not mean that it faced "restrictions" in its choice of weapons suppliers. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is to visit Russia later this year or in the first half of 2009, he said.

Colombia's efforts to court Russia come after it voiced concerns about billions of dollars in Russian arms sales to neighboring Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has proclaimed a goal of countering U.S. influence in Latin America and is accused by Colombia of arming FARC rebels.

Venezuela in the last three years spent more than $3 billion on fighter jets, attack helicopters and air defense systems, as well as 100,000 automatic rifles, according to a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report. The United States suspended arms sales to Venezuela in 2006.

Chavez will order another $2 billion of Russian weapons, including submarines, during an upcoming visit to Moscow, Kommersant said last month.