MOSCOW, February 11. /TASS/. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu sets off on a three-day Latin American tour during which he will visit Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, a Defense Ministry spokesman has said.
Shoigu is due to visit Caracas on Wednesday, where he will hold talks with his Venezuelan counterpart Vladimir Padrino Lopez and meet with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said.
"During the meetings, the sides will discuss topical issues of military and military-technical cooperation of the two countries, and also exchange views on the key issues of global and regional security," Konashenkov said.
A military and diplomatic source told TASS "no agreements or contracts on the supplies of Russian weapons and equipment to Venezuela are planned to be signed." After visiting Caracas, Shoigu will fly to Nicaragua, the source said.
Last February, Shoigu said Russia planned to expand its military presence in a number of foreign countries, including in Venezuela. The minister said this was essential for the Russian Navy to be able to call at their ports to service its ships.
Shoigu also said Russia’s long-range aircraft could use their air bases for refuelling.
Russia and Venezuela began expanding their military-technical cooperation after Hugo Chavez took power in Venezuela in 1999. Venezuela earlier purchased weapons and military equipment from the United States, Europe and Israel.
Russia has now become the main supplier of weapons for Venezuela. The cooperation in this sphere is based on an intergovernmental agreement signed in May 2011 in Moscow.
According to Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport, in spring 2013 Russia’s contracts with Venezuela were estimated at $11 billion. Venezuela has ordered 24 Su-30MK2 multi-role fighter aircraft and some 40 helicopters, including Mi-35M attack helicopters, and also 12 Tor-M1 missile systems.
Russia has also supplied to Venezuela 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 assault rifles and helps the country to build a plant on a licensed assembly of the weapons. However, the completion of the construction has been delayed several times.
Venezuela is currently hit by the economic crisis due to the plunging prices for oil since it represents over 96% of the country’s exports.