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RIA Novosti

MEXICO CITY, MARCH 11, (RIA Novosti's Mikhail Belyat) - Venezuela has signed the first contract for the purchase of Russian-made military helicopters. This was disclosed to RIA Novosti over the phone at Russia's embassy in Caracas.

Venezuela's Defense Minister Jorge-Luis Garcia Carneiro and Mikhail Orlovets, who serves as Russia's Ambassador to Venezuela, inked a contract for the purchase of the first ten Russian-made military choppers worth $120 million by the Venezuelan army in the evening of March 10, RIA Novosti's interlocutor noted.

According to Venezuela's Cadena Global information portal, this is only the first batch of Russian weapons, due to be purchased by Venezuela. Caracas and Moscow are negotiating the purchase of at least 20 more Russian helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles since February 2005.

Talking to correspondents after the signing ceremony, the Venezuelan Defense Minister praised the really impressive combat potential of Russian helicopters and their performance. The contract also stipulates technology transfers, he stressed.

According to the Minister, the bilateral contract calls for establishing a service center in Venezuela. That center will repair military aircraft and their weapons, with its personnel helping Venezuelan officers to master Russian combat hardware.

Venezuela decided to acquire Russian weapons a month ago, thereby drawing Washington's ire. The US Administration is concerned over Russian-weapons sales to Venezuela, deputy State Department spokesman Adam Earley said back then.

Everybody knows our concern in connection with weapons deliveries to Venezuela and in the context of their potentially destabilizing effect for the Western Hemisphere perfectly well, Earley stressed. In his words, the US side had raised this issue before Moscow several times.

Replying to the US State Department, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that Venezuela was not in a state of war with any country, and that its military cooperation with Russia did not transcend the boundaries of international norms and agreements.

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