United States’ special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams has claimed that Venezuela had signed a major contract for acquisitions of new Russian arms, which included Flanker air superiority fighters and Mi-171 military transport helicopters.
Venezuela currently operates the heaviest and arguably the most capable fighters in the Americas outside the United States, having acquired two dozen Su-30MK2 air superiority fighters under the Presidency of Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela imported twenty-four Su-30MK2s between 2006 and 2012 at a cost of $2.2 billion. After one of the Su-30s crashed in 2015, Caracas ordered another twelve for $480 million dollars. These aircraft were equipped with the latest munitions available including R-77 and R-27ER long-range air to air missiles.
Other acquisitions including S-300VM and BuK-M2 air defence systems and Mi-8 transport helicopters were also made.
The country was reportedly planning further purchases to expand its fighter fleet and phase aging Cold War-era F-16 Fighting Falcons out of service, with an order for two dozen Su-35 fighters under a contract estimated at around $2 billion being planned.
If such plans existed, however, the economic crisis resulting primarily from falling oil prices and harsh Western economic sanctions were thought to have put them on hold for the foreseeable future.
While Abrams claimed that Caracas had made major purchases of new aircraft from Russia in June 2019, it was notably that the value of these was reported at just $209 million.
At export prices, this would be insufficient to furnish Venezuela with even half a squadron of older Flanker variants – much less place a major order for Su-35s alongside military helicopters.
It remains uncertain what the source of the American reports was, but Moscow dismissed them stating that no new military contracts were expected to be signed with Venezuela in the near future.
Although small in number, the sophistication of Venezuela’s existing aerial warfare systems serves as a potential deterrent to U.S. attacks which, depending on the quality of training received, could potentially take a considerable toll on American or allied assets in the case of an offensive against Caracas.
Venezuela has been threatened with the attack in the past and retains one of the largest militaries in the Americas with conventional forces supplemented by heavily armed paramilitary units.