Three years ago, Russian arms dealers stated that they expected to increase sales to Venezuela, from the then current $4 billion, to over $10 billion. They are close to their goal. A recent visit by Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin, sealed more sales deals, and brought the total, since 2001, to over $9 billion.
Why all the weapons? Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez achieved a measure of popularity with the voters by convincing them that the United States was about to invade. This threat, and Chavez's poll numbers, are less believable these days. Venezuela is running out of money, but Chavez takes comfort in new weapons, especially those being used to arm a new personal militia. Weapons may not be needed to stop yankee invaders, but they will also work against disloyal Venezuelans.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has sold weapons on a cash basis. No more generous terms. But that is changing, and last year, Russia offered Venezuela $2.2 billion in credit, for the purchase of more weapons. The Venezuelan spending spree has brought in dozens of Su-30 jet fighters, hundreds of armored vehicles (including T-90 tanks) and scores of artillery systems (mainly multiple rocket launchers.) There's also small arms (including a factory for making assault rifles), radios and other equipment. There are support aircraft, including transports and helicopter gunships. Negotiations are still under way to purchase new warships, including submarines.
With unemployment rising, there's no shortage of people trying to join the military. Those willing to profess undying loyalty to Chavez have an edge, and the senior ranks have already been purged of those who did not agree with the radical reforms Chavez wanted to impose on the military. These reforms were heavy on politics and theory, and short on training and experience. So all those new weapons are faced with a problematic future, in the hands of inept, but politically motivated, users.