Russia has signed a $550-million dollar contract to sell 36 fighter jets to Syria in a show of support for President Assad’s regime, Kommersant reports.The Russian daily business paper quotes a source close to Russia’s Rosoboronexport state arms trader confirming the deal for Yak-130 aircraft. A spokesman for Rosoboronexport refused to comment.
If confirmed, the deal would be an open defiance of international efforts to put pressure on the Syrian government, which has faced strong censure for its brutal crackdown on the country’s uprising. The UN says more than 5,400 people have died in 10 months.
This is only the latest example of Russia’s support for Syria. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that Moscow did not feel the need to offer an explanation over suspicions that a Russian ship had delivered munitions to Syria despite an EU arms embargo. He continued that Russia was fully within international law and wouldn’t be influenced by sanctions imposed by other nations.
Russia, which has been an ally of Syria since the existence of the Soviet Union, has accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by opposition militants and arms supplies to the Syrian opposition from abroad. It has also continued to block attempts to secure UN support for the use of force against Syria.
Igor Korotchenko, head of the centre of Analysis of the Global Arms trade, an independent think-tank, said the deal seemed to show Moscow’s belief that Assad would weather the storm. “Such deals aren’t signed with a government whose hold on power raises doubts,” Korotchenko was quoted by RIA Novosti.
However, not everyone agrees with the Kremlin’s reasoning. Ruslan Pukhov, head of the Moscow-based centre for Analysis of Stategies and Technologies, said while the contract was a success for Russia’s leaders and arms dealers, the West’s determination to end Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime could disrupt the contract, “and this may lead to the contract being disrupted and Russia suffering image and financial losses.”
Under the deal struck in late December, the jets are to be supplied to Syria once Damascus makes a prepayment, Ria Novosti reports. The Yak-130 is a twin-engined combat trainer jet that can also be used to attack ground targets. The Russian air force has recently placed an order for 55 such jets.