June 3, 2006

Chavez gets new Russian rifles

By Patrick Markey

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuela received a
shipment of 30,000 new Russian rifles on Saturday, weeks after
Washington restricted U.S. arms sales to Caracas over concerns
about President Hugo Chavez's ties to Cuba and Iran.

Venezuela says the AK103 Kalashnikov rifles and 25 million
rounds -- the first lot of 100,000 weapons -- are part of
efforts to modernize its military, but the U.S. government has
opposed the arms purchases it believes could destabilize the

Allied with Cuba, Chavez is locked in an increasingly tense
standoff with Washington, which accuses the self-styled
socialist revolutionary of eroding democracy and using
Venezuela's oil wealth to muscle in on his South American

Chavez, who says Washington wants to oust him or invade
Venezuela, has reduced military cooperation with the United
States and ordered officers and civilian reservists to train
for a possible guerrilla war against U.S. troops.

"This is another defeat we've given to U.S. imperialists.
They just can't touch us," Chavez told a rally of students late
on Saturday. "We don't want war, we are not going to attack
anyone. We are just preparing to defend our blessed land, our
nation and our revolution."

Washington last month banned U.S. arms sales to Chavez's
government because of jitters about his ties with Havana and
Tehran and what it called his inaction against Marxist FARC
guerrillas in neighboring Colombia. He rejects those charges.

Defense Minister Adm. Orlando Maniglia said earlier that
the rifles, part of a multimillion-dollar arms deal, would
replace aging FAL weapons. He said all 100,000 rifles would be
in Venezuela before the end of the year and Russia would help
Venezuela build plants to make its own Kalashnikov rifles and

First elected in 1998, Chavez says his ideas for a
revolution for the poor counter U.S. influence in South America
and he has bolstered energy ties with Russia, China and Cuba to
curb Venezuela's traditional reliance on the United States.

The U.S. government moved earlier this year to block
Spain's attempts to sell $2 billion in military ships and
planes to Chavez and opposed a deal for Brazilian jets because
they contained U.S.-made military technology.

Angered by Washington's restrictions, Chavez says he could
buy Sukhoi fighters from Russia instead and has warned he could
sell his U.S.-made F-16 jets to China or Cuba. Venezuela has
already purchased Russian attack helicopters this year.

"Sukhoi 30 jets made in Russia will soon be passing over
our heads," Chavez said. "Our pilots have already been flying
them in Moscow. The Sukhoi will be arriving here soon."