Sunday, September 28, 2008

Concerns Over Russian Weapons For Venezuela

by Security and Defence Specialist Hans de Vreij*

A representative of Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen has told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that The Netherlands is concerned about Venezuela's large scale purchase of weapons from Russia. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported on Friday that the Netherlands had announced an embargo on all deliveries of weapons to Venezuela. That, says the Foreign Ministry, is not true:
"The Netherlands would always wait for a decision by an international organisation such as the United nations or the EU before taking such a step."

Minister Verhagen had, according to the representative, already informed the Dutch Lower House last year that he would take a 'critical' look at Venezuelan requests to the Netherlands. Although export licences are approved by the Ministry for Economic Affairs, the Foreign Ministry offers advice on political concerns before they are issued. As far as is known, the majority of Dutch weapons sales comprised electronic systems for the Venezuelan navy and were worth approximately 200 million euros.

Political charge
In recent years, Carácas has spent approximately four billion dollars on arms and the modernisation of its defences. No-one is objecting to that; every country in the world is free to determine how it defends itself. But in Venezuela's case, its purchases carry a definite political charge, given that its principal arms supplier is Russia.

On Thursday, Russia announced that it was supplying Venezuela with a further one billion dollars in credit, the money to be spent with the Russian weapons industry. It added that it would also offer Carácas assistance in building nuclear power stations.

Worries about submarines
On the day the one billion dollar credit line was announced, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez held talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and said that Russia was a country of increasing importance to South America. It's an importance clearly demonstrated by two recent military exercises. Earlier this month, for the first time in living memory, two Russian strategic bombers flew to Venezuela. At the end of November, the two countries will hold a joint naval exercise. Both actions follow Mr Chavez's description of Russia as a "strategic partner".

Out of all the Russian weapons purchased by Venezuela, the obvious eye-catcher for most people is the Sukhoi fighter jet. But in military circles, the real cause for concern lies with the order the country has placed for diesel-driven submarines, because in any armed conflict, submarines represent a greater threat than fighter jets.

Netherlands AntillesNetherlands Antilles
The Netherlands places great importance on these developments, chiefly because a part of its kingdom lies less than 70 kilometres off the Venezuelan coast: the Netherlands Antilles. In 2006, in the seas around the islands, the Dutch led a large-scale military exercise for several countries, one of which was the United States. Shortly before the exercise began President Chávez, hardly bothering to couch his message in diplomatic terms, said the Dutch should disappear from the area.

At the time, The Hague denied any political message behind the display of its military flag, just as Venezuela is now saying more less the same thing about its upcoming joint exercise with the Russians.

Source: RadioNetherlands.Nl

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