This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Russian Subs and Echoes of War

By now talk of Venezuelan military purchases from Russia has become a repetition of Chavez’s shopping list with the occasional mention of a new item. In light of the current situation between Venezuela and Colombia, Chavez’s interest in purchasing three Varshavianka-class submarines for an unofficial amount of one billion dollars becomes slightly more interesting.

Echoes of war between the two countries resound more in Chavez’s rhetoric and Colombian newspapers than they do in the offices of Colombia’s political and military leaders. But those who pay close attention to the matter have become more alarmed than usual. Chavez’s rhetoric appears especially fierce. Close cooperation between his government and the FARC, as well as the possible presence of Venezuelan ammunition in the hands of FARC guerrillas, underline an interesting observation made by Adam Isacson, Director of Programs with the Center for International Policy Studies in Washington.

In a recent conversation, he mentioned that when you’ve got two neighbors with one – Venezuela - that allegedly supplies arms and ammunition to the guerrilla army of the other – the FARC in Colombia – you’ve got a tense situation, one that is not present anywhere else in the world, save sections of Africa, and maybe the Middle East.

On top of that, add Chavez’s rhetoric, and the possibility of both Venezuelan and Colombian troop presence on a shared border known to be, in large swathes, FARC-controlled territory. In a dense forest, where a gun shot could come from any one of the three groups, causing an immediate reaction, it is not a far stretch to see how the current echoes of war could descend to something quite different.

Chavez’s announced trip to Russia to sign the contract for these three subs certainly does not help reduce tension. Once the contract for Russian attack subs has been signed, Chavez will likely make lightly-veiled statements to bristle the Colombian president flanked by a stoic background of Russian officials.

The Varshavianka-class submarine is a patrol submarine capable of taking out targets on land, on the surface or underwater. Along with the purchase of three submarines, Chavez will discuss his long-term plans to purchase another hundred patrol boats of various sizes.

Currently Colombian officials assert little worry over Chavez’s war-mongering. Claims that his speeches are designed to keep Venezuelans focus away from many domestic problems may be accurate for now. But the day may come when the Venezuelan military could pose a serious threat to Colombia. What’s more worrying than the possibility of war today is the likelihood of strained relations over the long-term due to Chavez’s completely understandable military upgrade.

As usual, it will be the citizens of both countries that will suffer, especially along the border where the local economy is so closely tied together that even slight interruptions of cross-border traffic is enough to cause a small violent outbreaks on a local level. Problem is, such a small spark might be all it takes to set fire to a much larger conflict.

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