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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Arms Firms Blitz South America

Hoping to launch a lucrative invasion in Washington's backyard, Russia is stepping up efforts to sell its weapons in the South American market with a heavy presence at a major military expo in Chile beginning this weekend.

The Russian exhibition, representing 16 design and production companies from the nation's defense industry and showcasing more than 50 pieces of weaponry, is one of the largest at the aviation fair, said Yevgeny Moskalenko of Rosvooruzhenyie, the state arms exporter.

"We consider this market our highest priority," Moskalenko said Wednesday.

The display includes the planned Su-27 long-range fighter and its latest modifications, the Tunguska-M1 and Pantsyr missile systems, the T-80U and T-90C main battle tanks and the BMP-3 armored personnel vehicle.

Russia has recently accelerated its efforts at weapons sales in the region, which has traditionally been dominated by the United States, Britain and France.

Until now, only three countries in Latin America -- Cuba, Nicaragua and Peru -- had Russian weaponry in their arsenals. But recent moves indicate that Russia has its eye on Brazil, whose $5 billion military budget is the largest in the region.

Russia and Brazil signed a protocol late last year calling for future cooperation in defense matters, including regular contacts between military officials and technical assistance on research and development projects.

An official from the Russian State Committee on Defense Industries, who declined to be named, said that Brazil has already sent a delegation to Moscow to explore Russia's production of heavy weapons.

In 1994, Brazil bought 112 Russian Igla hand-held missile systems and negotiated the purchase of T-72 battle tanks, although the final contract for the tank deal was never signed. In 1995, Brazil also purchased several light multipurpose Mi-34 helicopters.

Russian delegations have also visited Colombia to discuss prospects for future military cooperation. Industry sources in Moscow said that Russia plans to compete for a $300 million contract to supply the Colombian army with combat helicopters. Other potential clients in the region include Venezuela, Chile and Peru.

With the region enjoying a measure of political and economic stability, the Latin American market is again becoming attractive for the world arms traders, after several fallow years. According to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, agreements from all countries to sell weapons to Latin America fell from $1.6 billion in 1989 to $400 million in 1993.

The decline was caused chiefly by a U.S. ban on sales of advanced weapons to Latin American military regimes guilty of human rights violations. However, sales have started to grow recently and experts estimate the weapons market in the Latin America now to be as high as $700 million to $800 million a year.

Alexander Kulik, a weapons trade expert from the Moscow-based USA/Canada institute, said Russia's moves in the region are in line with its recent efforts to enter other new markets, including Southeast Asia, once dominated by the West.

"Russia has recently become active in regional markets," he said. "Such a policy is necessary in the current world situation."

These efforts at landing new markets seem to be paying off. According to Rosvooruzheniye data, in 1995 Russia took in $2.7 billion from arms exports in 1995 -- up from $1.71 billion in 1994 -- and signed contracts for $6.5 billion in future sales.

The Russian delegation to the Chilean exhibition is led by Rosvooruzheniye chief, Alexander Kotelkin. The arms fair is slated to run March 10 to 17.