Venezuela to choose between Russian warplanes

It seems that Russia's Mikoyan-Gurevich and Sukhoi corporations will compete against each other in Venezuela. The country's Defense Ministry is considering purchasing Su-27 fighter-bombers and Su-25 ground-attack jets even though it has not completed talks on buying MiG-29-SMT air-superiority fighters, a leading business daily, Vedomosti, writes.

A delegation of Venezuela's Defense Ministry saw Sukhoi aircraft at a defense technology exhibition for Latin America that ended in Rio de Janeiro on April 29. Venezuela could buy Su-25s for its navy and Su-27 for its air force. In all, two squadrons, comprising 10 to 12 Su-25s and Su-27s, might be purchased.

In October 2004, Moscow promised to sell defense systems worth $500 million to the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. The first contract for the delivery of 10 Mil Mi-17 and Mi-26 helicopters, as well as 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles worth $120 million, was signed in February. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained then that Venezuelan weapons could fall into the hands of Colombian rebels and other anti-U.S. forces in Latin America.

Venezuela is experiencing problems with its military aircraft because the United States has refused to sell spare parts for the 22 F-16 fighters that were bought before Chavez's election, Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Center for Analyzing Strategies and Technologies, said. In his opinion, Moscow could sell Su-25s and Su-27s from its air-force surplus because their batch production has stopped. In that case, the entire contract would cost about $250 million, the paper writes.

However, the contract would deprive the MiG concern of money, as the company is negotiating the sale of MiG-29-SMT fighters worth about $250 million to Venezuela, Marat Kenzhetayev, an expert with the Center of Disarmament Problems, said.

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