Colombia, the closest U.S. ally in
Latin America, is sending its defense minister to Russia for the
first time to discuss signing a new military cooperation accord.
Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos arrives in Russia on
Oct. 6 to attend an Interpol police conference and meet with his
Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov, Colombia’s Ambassador to
Russia, Diego Jose Tobon Echeverri, said by phone today.
Santos “is the first Colombian defense minister to make an
official visit to Russia, which is of major significance for
relations between the two countries,” the Colombian presidency
said on its Web site. Talks will focus on cooperation in fighting
the drugs trade and terrorism and a new defense accord, it said.
Russia is reviving Cold War influence in Latin America as it
challenges the U.S. in its traditional backyard. It enjoys the
warmest ties with Venezuela, a U.S. opponent that is a rival of
“Colombia is trying to persuade Russia not to be so close to
Venezuela,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst,
said in a telephone interview.
Colombian Vice-President Francisco Santos said during a visit
to Russia in June that his country wants to buy fighter and
transport helicopters and radar systems as it broadens its sources
of defense equipment. The defense minister will attend a
demonstration of Russian weaponry during his week-long visit, the
presidency in Bogota said.
Colombia’s efforts to court Russia come after it voiced
concerns about billions of dollars in Russian arms sales to
neighboring Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez has proclaimed
a goal of countering U.S. influence in Latin America and is
accused by Colombia of arming FARC rebels.
Oil-rich Venezuela spent $4.4 billion on Russian weaponry
from 2005-2007, including 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 50 military
helicopters and 24 Su-30 jet fighters, according to a U.S.
Defense Intelligence Agency report.
The U.S. suspended arms sales to Venezuela in May 2006.
Chavez visited Russia last week and secured a $1 billion
credit line to buy more Russian weapons and an offer to provide
nuclear technology to Venezuela. Russian warships in November
will stage joint maneuvers in the Caribbean with the Venezuelan
Colombia in addition to helicopters is interested in
acquiring Russian fighter jets, air-traffic control systems and
night-vision equipment, the Moscow-based Kommersant newspaper
reported in May.
“We are in favor of developing good ties with all
countries,” Alexei Kuznetsov, spokesman for Russia’s defense
minister, said today by phone, declining to comment on potential
arms sales to Colombia.
Mexico, another Latin American country which has strong
relations with the U.S., is sending its foreign minister to
Moscow next week, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced today.
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa, will meet her
Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov during her Oct. 7-9 visit,
which marks only the third time Mexico has sent its top diplomat
to Russia since 1997.
“Mexico’s leadership has taken note of Russia’s growing
international role and is keen to develop bilateral cooperation
and political dialogue,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei
Nesterenko said in a statement posted on the ministry Web Site. (Bloomberg)