April 3, 2006

Chavez eyes Russian fighters after Brazil deal out

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez said on Monday he could buy Russian combat fighters
after charging Washington had torpedoed a deal to buy aircraft
from Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer.

The Venezuelan leader was speaking at a demonstration of
the first three Russian-made helicopters his government
purchased as part of a series of arms deals to upgrade the
armed forces of the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

The U.S. government, which accuses Chavez of working to
undermine regional democracy, has opposed Venezuela's recent
arms purchases and moved to block deals for equipment
containing U.S.-made military technology.

Chavez counters that U.S. officials plan to invade
Venezuela to seize its oil reserves. He has sought arms deals
with Spain, Brazil and Russia and ordered his military and
civilian reserves to train for "asymmetric" or resistance

"We wanted to buy some Brazilian training aircraft for our
pilots ... the U.S. has stopped that operation," Chavez told an
audience at the helicopter event. "It's a pity for Brazil
because it was a good deal ... we are ready to buy Russian
fighters to have them here defending the skies."

Venezuela had planed to buy Supertucano trainers from
Embraer, and Brazil last year said it would support the deal.
Arms transactions involving U.S.-made technology must be
approved by Washington.

U.S. officials worry about Chavez's ties to Cuba and accuse
the self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary of using his oil
wealth to spread an anti-democratic message. Supporters applaud
his initiatives for the poor, but critics say he has become
authoritarian since his 1998 election.

Authorities said they expect to take delivery of a total of
15 MI-type military helicopters this year as part of an
agreement to purchase more aircraft from Russia and 100,000
Kalashnikov rifles to replace Venezuela's aging FAL rifles.

"These helicopters are ideal for the war of resistance,"
Chavez said after watching troops parachute out of the
aircraft. "The anti-imperialist war... a war which hopefully
will never come, but we have to be ready."