Latin America accounted for only 4.6 percent of Russian arms sales to other countries in the period of 2000-2016, with Venezuela and Nicaragua being the biggest buyers. Russia is making strides to expand its share of arms sales in Latin American arms market.
The sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have resulted in spurring Russia’s economic contacts with other world economies. Latin America seems to be presenting just such an opportunity. Moscow boasts a powerful diplomatic presence, especially in such countries as Brazil, Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Cuba. With 300 million people and a combined GNP of over $1 trillion, MERCOSUR is a huge common market of South American countries, which includes the majority of continent's states.
Vladimir Putin met with President of Bolivia Evo Morales on the sidelines of the Third Summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (Nov. 20–24). “There is interest in the fields of energy, engineering and certain high-tech sectors. We are prepared to work together with you in military technology cooperation as well,” he his Bolivian counterpart.
Russian energy giant Gazprom operates in Bolivia. It started production on the Incahuasi field in 2016, and plans to start drilling in the Azero block for 2018. Gazprom is interested in drilling for hydrocarbons in La Ceiba, Vitiacua and Madidi. Earlier this year, Rosneft began oil exploration in Brazil's Amazon region after buying a controlling stake in drilling wells in the Solimoes Basin.
Bolivia is also fertile ground for Russia-made weapons exports. The commander of the Bolivian Air Force recommended that La Paz acquire Russian Yakovlev Yak-130 “Mitten” light-attack aircraft to replace the service’s Lockheed T-33s. The Bolivian Army has an ongoing requirement for new armoured transports and combat vehicles for which it has previously considered Russian equipment. The two countries signed a defense cooperation agreement back in August, which appears to the first step by Russia for larger weapons transfers to Bolivia. This is a part of a much broader picture.
On Dec. 6, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, wrapped up his two-day Latin America trip that took him to Brazil and Argentina. Bilateral cooperation in the field of national security and cooperation between law enforcement and intelligence agencies topped the agenda. The Russian delegation included the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation. There was a good reason for that official to be a part of the team.
The continent accounted for only 4.6 percent of Russian arms sales to other countries in the period of 2000-2016, with Venezuela and Nicaragua being the biggest buyers. Russia is making strides to expand its share of arms sales in Latin American arms market. This year, it participated in four defense exhibitions. “Russia has been paying great attention to strengthening its positions on the arms market in Latin American countries,” said Alexander Denisov, head of the Marketing Activity Department at Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport, at the Expodefensa 2017 arms exhibition in Bogota (Colombia), which took place on Dec.4-6. Rosoboronexport’s exhibition stand featured over 250 types of weapon systems and military equipment.
The Yak-130 combat training fighter plane, the Su-35 and Su-30MK super-maneuverable multirole fighters and the MiG-29M multirole frontline fighter, the Mi-28NE, Ka-52, Mi-35M combat helicopters and the Mi-26T2 heavy transport helicopter, the Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft missile and artillery system, and the Antey-2500 long-range air defense system are the most promising weapon systems Russia can offer to Latin American buyers.
Potential Latin American customers are traditionally attracted by Russia’s air defense systems, especially the Pantsir-S1 air defense missile/gun system, Tor-M2KM and Buk-M2E SAM systems, and the Igla-S MANPADS. The Mi-17, Mi-26T2 and Ansat helicopters are in focus of public attention. The Project 20382 Tiger-class small patrol boat (corvette), Project 14310 Mirazh-class patrol boat and Project 636 large diesel-electric submarine draw the attention of senior naval officers from various countries of the continent.
Russian ground forces’ weapons and military equipment, which are also used by special operations units to combat crime, terrorism and drug mafia, appear to be in demand.
Russia and Argentina are in talks on acquisition of Russian MiG-29 fighters. Brazil is interested in the purchase of Russia’s Pantsir-S1air defense missile and artillery system as well as more Igla-S portable SAMs that have already been sold to that country.
Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay and Argentina have expressed interest in purchasing Russian fighter jets, such as the Sukhoi Su-30 fighter currently operating in Syria.
Russia’s arms deliveries to Colombia have reached $500 million over the period of more than 20 years. The Columbian military operates over 20 Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters.
Rosoboronexport, the agency responsible for arms sales to other countries, is currently participating in some tenders in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Peru for both ground-based armaments and aircraft. Moscow is ready to establish licensed production facilities to manufacture Russian-designed arms and military equipment in Latin American countries. It is also ready to participate in joint design and construction of ships for Latin American navies.
In late November, Russia joined the international effort to rescue the crew of Argentina’s missing submarine San Juan. It deployed a remote-controlled device to trawl the sea. Russia's Antonov aircraft delivered the Pantera Plus, unmanned submersible, capable of conducting sonar scans up to a depth of 1,000 metres (3300ft). It conducted a search and rescue effort together with Yantar scientific exploration ship.
Commissioned in 2015, the Yantar can act as a mothership to mini-subs. The Konsul-class submersibles are reportedly capable of operating at depths of up to 6,000 metres (20,000 ft). It is also s equipped with manipulators and other devices for complex underwater operations. The ship itself has advanced detectors to determine the precise location of the submarine.
This is a good example of military cooperation with a Latin American state. The Russia’s underwater search and rescue equipment demonstrated in Argentina can be of interest for any country operating submarines. With Latin America no longer a US backyard, the prospects for cooperation in all areas, including military, are promising and there is interest on both sides to spur the process.