Venezuela signed an agreement with Russia to buy 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, formalizing a deal that has drawn sharp opposition from the United States.
The accord for the sale of Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles was signed Tuesday by Venezuelan Defense Minister Jorge Garcia Carneiro and Sergei Ladygin, the regional chief of Russia's state arms agency Rosoboronexport.
Garcia Carneiro told the state-run Bolivarian News Agency the cost will be US$54 million (Ђ43 million) and the first 28,000 rifles are to arrive in October.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said the United States is concerned the guns could fall into the hands of other groups, such as leftist Colombian rebels, and become a destabilizing force in the region. But Russian officials brushed aside the criticism, saying all along they would go ahead with the deal.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced plans for the deal months ago, saying the weapons would replace outdated FAL rifles in the 100,000-member military and would pose no threat to the region.
"The purchase of these weapons is of a defensive character," Garcia Carneiro was quoted as saying in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal on Wednesday.
He said a second shipment of 35,000 rifles was scheduled to arrive in December, and the rest would reach Venezuela next March.