Venezuela to purchase 24 new Russian fighter jets

President Hugo Chavez confirmed the deal on Wednesday after months of speculations over the issue.

Finally, President Hugo Chavez confirmed what was until Wednesday an open secret. Venezuela will buy 24 new Russian Sukhoi fighter jets this year to replace a fleet of old US-made F-16s.

The leader of the South American nation took the decision a few weeks after the Pentagon issued an order to stop all arms shipments to Caracas quoting intelligence reports which say that Venezuela is aiding leftist rebels in neighbor Colombia. President Chavez made the announcement Wednesday in a speech before hundreds of soldiers at a military base in Caracas.

"First we are going to buy 24 Sukhoi S-30s and we are going to leave open the possibility of a future acquisition," Mr Chavez said in the country's capital, Caracas, where also presented the troops with new Russian-made AK-103 rifles - part of an order of 100,000 of the weapons scheduled for delivery within the next six months.

The president lavished praise on the Sukhoi fighters. "An F-16 launches a missile, maximum distance: 60km (40 miles). Do you all know from what distance the Sukhoi Su-30 can launch? 200km," Mr Chavez said. "That's to say, an aircraft carrier that stops in the Caribbean. They [the US] like to stop aircraft carriers in the Caribbean to invade."

The Venezuelan government said the new weaponry will help the country to defend its sacred land from any possible foreign attack. Chavez has frequently warned that the United States could invade to seize control of Venezuela's vast oil reserves.

According to the US administration, alleged Venezuelan links to Cuba and Iran are a reason to ban arms sales to the government in Caracas. Venezuela has warned it could sell its F-16 fighter jets to other countries, such as Iran, while looking to buy more aircraft from Russia. U.S. officials say Washington and Caracas have previously signed agreements that would not allow such a resale.

Hernan Etchaleco

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov