Venezuela in Talks to Buy T-72 Tanks

ReutersVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez greeting Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev at talks in Caracas on Friday.
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuela plans on purchasing Russian-made T-72 battle tanks and armored reconnaissance vehicles as the nations increase military cooperation, a Venezuelan military commander said.

General Jesus Gonzalez made the announcement following talks with Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev about upcoming arms purchases that could also include military planes, naval vessels and combat helicopters.

"We're in the negotiation process," Gonzalez said late last week. "We are going to determine the number of tanks, planes, ships and helicopters that we're going to need."

Russia has signed weapons contracts worth more than $4 billion with the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez since 2005 to supply fighter jets, combat helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles. Russia is also helping Venezuela build South America's first Kalashnikov factory. Chavez, who has repeatedly warned that the United States could invade Venezuela to seize control of its immense oil reserves, argues that his country needs the weapons for defensive purposes.

Gonzalez told reporters that "nobody should be worried" about Venezuela's arms purchases, which have raised concerns in Washington. The new arms purchases should be completed by the end of this year, Gonzalez said.

Russia is sending a naval squadron to Venezuela next month for naval exercises in the Caribbean Sea, the largest such deployment since the Cold War.

Patrushev, who met with Chavez during his visit, said Friday that nearby nations had nothing to fear from the exercises because they were "not directed against the interests of any other country."

He said President Dmitry Medvedev planned to visit Venezuela soon, though he did not give a date.