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How Bolivia Once Turned Back On russia and Turned Down a $100 Million Deal on Mi-17, Weapons, and the Current State of its Military

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SK-105 light tank of the Bolivian army / Open-source illustrative photo
SK-105 light tank of the Bolivian army / Open-source illustrative photo

Reports indicate that in the early hours of June 27, 2024, the Bolivian army attempted a military coup to overthrow the country's leadership. The rebellion was unsuccessful and swiftly suppressed. At first glance, it might seem that is all to this event, but the picture will become much more interesting if we look at it from two perspectives: Bolivia's ties with russia and the current state of the Bolivian army.

After all, the habit of looking for russian traces in any rebellion or extraordinary event is not always counterproductive, and can sometimes yield interesting insights.

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Brazilian EE-9 Cascavel armored vehicles in service with the Bolivian army / Defense Express / How Bolivia Once Turned Back On russia and Turned Down a $100 Million Deal on Mi-17, Weapons, and the Current State of its Military
Brazilian EE-9 Cascavel armored vehicles in service with the Bolivian army / Open-source illustrative photo

In April 2024, russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Bolivia, following Bolivian officials' announcement of their intention to join the BRICS intergovernmental bloc. The russians viewed this as their "strengthening of geopolitical positions in Latin America."

On the other hand, Bolivia has resisted Kremlin's persistent efforts to sell russian-made military equipment and weapons. Military-themed russian media claim that Bolivia expressed interest in purchasing Mi-17 helicopters in the 2000s to combat drug trafficking and signed an agreement to buy $100 million worth of weapons from russia using credit funds. This deal, however, was never implemented for unknown reasons.

Swiss MOWAG Roland armored vehicles in the strobe of the Bolivian army / Defense Express / How Bolivia Once Turned Back On russia and Turned Down a $100 Million Deal on Mi-17, Weapons, and the Current State of its Military
Swiss MOWAG Roland armored vehicles in the strobe of the Bolivian army / Open-source illustrative photo

Despite this, the russian Ministry of Defense under Sergey Shoigu's tenure occasionally announced some vague "agreements on military and technical cooperation" with Bolivia.

Bolivia is a poor country with a GDP of less than $50 billion and a defense budget of less than $500 million annually. Consequently, the Bolivian armed forces are modest, with a total of 34,000 personnel and a diverse yet limited array of equipment and weapons.

Bolivian army parade / Defense Express / How Bolivia Once Turned Back On russia and Turned Down a $100 Million Deal on Mi-17, Weapons, and the Current State of its Military
Bolivian army parade / Open-source illustrative photo

The Bolivian army's inventory includes:

  • 56 SK-105 tanks (Austrian licensed copy of the French AMX-13)
  • 24 EE-9 Cascavel heavy armored vehicles (Brazilian production)
  • 150 armored personnel carriers of various types
  • 311 artillery systems, including 25 M101 howitzers, 36 Soviet M-30 howitzers, and over 250 mortars of various types
  • Air defense capabilities are minimal, consisting of only 18 Chinese Type-65 37mm anti-aircraft guns

The ground forces consist of 9,800 regular servicemen and 13,000 reservists.

The Bolivian Navy has 4,800 military personnel, including 1,700 marine infantry, with a fleet of 7 patrol boats and 3 auxiliary ships.

The air force comprises 6,500 servicemen, with 77 light transport and 35 trainer aircraft of various types, and 35 light helicopters. Attack aviation is essentially absent.

Understanding these details provides a clearer picture of the capacities behind the recent coup attempt in a country that seeks closer ties with russia.

Bolivian UH-1H Iroquois / Defense Express / How Bolivia Once Turned Back On russia and Turned Down a $100 Million Deal on Mi-17, Weapons, and the Current State of its Military
Bolivian UH-1H Iroquois / Open-source illustrative photo
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