WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is concerned that Venezuela’s plan to buy over $2 billion in weapons from Russia could set off an arms race in the region, a State Department spokesman said on Monday.
President Hugo Chavez announced on Sunday that Russia has agreed to give Venezuela a $2.2 billion loan to purchase 92 tanks and advanced anti-aircraft missiles.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the United States was worried about the arms deal.
“We have concerns in general about Venezuela’s stated desire to increase its arms build-up, which we think poses a serious challenge to stability in the Western Hemisphere,” Kelly told reporters.
“What they are looking to purchase and what they are purchasing outpaces all other countries in South America. And, of course, we’re concerned about an arms race in the region,” Kelly said.
In recent years, Venezuela has bought over $4 billion in weapons from Russia, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets.
Critics say Venezuela is fueling an arms race in Latin America, but Chavez says he is modernizing his country’s military for defensive purposes.
Venezuela is embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Colombia over a deal to allow U.S. troops access to more bases in the neighboring country to help fight drug traffickers and guerrillas.
Chavez, a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy, says the Colombian bases plan could be used to launch an attack on Venezuela and increases the risk of war in South America.
Writing by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Anthony Boadle