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Russia, Argentina in Talks on Arms Deal

Russia is negotiating its first-ever arms sales to Argentina in a deal that could see Russian arms being swapped for Argentine beef.

The news came less than two weeks after a controversial $3 billion arms deal between Russia and Venezuela that has been widely seen in Moscow as the trigger for U.S. sanctions on Russian defense firms.

The potential deal includes military helicopters, high-speed patrol boats and rifles, Interfax reported Wednesday, citing a source in the Russian military.

Selling arms to Argentina, led by President Nestor Kirchner — an ally of Venezuela's leftist leader Hugo Chavez — could risk further upsetting the United States. Chavez has sought to strengthen defense and trade ties between Latin American countries.

Buenos Aires daily La Nacion reported Monday that Russian officials had offered to swap weapons for Argentine food products.

A spokesman for state arms trader Rosoboronexport declined to say whether an arms deal was in the works, saying "the question is political."

Russian officials, including the deputy head of the Defense Ministry's defense procurement service, have met at least three times this year with Argentine Defense Minister Nilda Garre.

At the latest meeting on Aug. 2, Garre met with Yury Korchagin, Russia's ambassador in Buenos Aires, and discussed "technical-military cooperation," according to a statement from Garre's ministry.

Speaking by telephone from Buenos Aires on Wednesday, Korchagin said the meeting was "very good." He declined to give further details, but said a bilateral agreement in 2004 had laid the groundwork for military cooperation.

Garre's meeting with Korchagin was her third with Russian officials this year. On Jan. 18, she met with Korchagin, and on April 7 with Alexander Fomin, deputy head of the Defense Ministry's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Garre's ministry said.

During the meeting, Korchagin said Russia already had military deals with Peru, Mexico, Uruguay and Venezuela, among others, but said that, as far as Argentina was concerned, "in 123 years of relations between our countries, that path has not been trodden," the Argentine Defense Ministry's statement said.

Garre said Argentina had "maintained a low level of armament purchases in the last few years, due to, among other reasons, the economic situation of the country," the statement said.

The Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation declined to comment Wednesday. The service is responsible for Russia's defense deals.

Russia hopes to sell Argentina a wide range of weapons, including Mi-17 and Mi-35M helicopters, high-speed missile boats and patrol boats, Buk-M1-2 and Tunguska air defense systems, Igla shoulder-fired missiles, military vehicles and rifles, Interfax said.

If such a deal were to be struck, it might not be large, the Rosoboronexport spokesman said on condition of anonymity. "But the main thing is to begin," he said.


(The Moscow Times 10.viii.06)

 
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