Russian defense officials fear that Venezuela’s parliamentary elections Sunday, which resulted in an overwhelming win for the opposition, may be costing them one of their best customers.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro, a protege of the late anti-U.S. populist leader Hugo Chavez, has been one of the biggest international buyers of Russian arms, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported Tuesday, but it now faces a National Assembly where opposition parties now hold a supermajority and can frustrate much of the government’s agenda.
Leaders of the opposition during the campaign questioned the need for the government’s large defense budget, at a time when Venezuela faces severe shortages of consumer goods, tumbling world prices for its oil and an inflation rate believed to be among the highest in the world.
Caracas has purchased air defense batteries, surface-to-air missiles and other high-priced military hardware from Russia over the past decade. In September, Mr. Maduro announced plans to begin talks on the purchase 12 additional Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets.
The Kommersant report cited Russian experts who said that deal and many others are now in jeopardy as the opposition prepares to take control of the National Assembly next month.
“These projects will be subject to the most revision by the new parliament,” Vladimir Semago, a former deputy chairman of the Russia-Venezuela Business Council, told the newspaper. Mr. Semago faulted the Kremlin for focusing too heavily on “government-to-government” deals while failing to engage “at the level of the private sector.”
The shift could be a significant blow to Russian arms exports — the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported recently that Venezuela imported just under $2 billion in arms from Russia between 2010 and 2014, and is Moscow’s biggest arms customer in the Western Hemisphere and second largest trading partner overall in South America after Brazil.
The election resulted produced a gloomy string of posts this week on the Russia Defense Forum, which tracks Russian military sales and industry news.
“This has changed things dramatically and this is not good,” one poster noted.