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Pentagon reluctant to sever contract for supply of Russian copters to Afghanistan

March 14, 2012, 17:28 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Pentagon is unlikely to sever its nearly one-billion-dollar contract with the Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport for the supply of Russia’s Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan, contrary to demands from a group of US senators, Russian experts say. This contract is to the benefit of the US military in the first place. Besides, it has largely been fulfilled already. Some attribute this move by US politicians to an attempt to score political points in the run-up to the presidential election. As for the supplies of Russian arms to Syria that the Americans want to be canceled, experts say they will go on, because their value exceeds that of the helicopter contract several-fold.

Russia in 2011 concluded a contract with the US Department of Defense for supplying to Afghanistan 21 military transport helicopters Mi-17 367.5 million dollars worth. It is expected that the last helicopters under the contract are to be delivered by the end of the year. The contract’s full value, including the supplies of spare parts and maintenance, is 900 million dollars. However, several days ago a group of senators from the Republican and Democratic parties asked the US Secretary of Defense to sever relations with the Russian state-run arms exporting company Rosoboronexport, if Moscow goes ahead with selling arms to the Bashar Assad regime.

Last week, the US Chief of Staff of the Army, Ray Odierno, when summoned to the Senate’s defense committee for a report, said that the contract with Rosoboronexport had been concluded at the demand of the central command of the US armed forces.

“They (Afghans) are familiar with these helicopters, and we are told that the Mi-17 is absolutely necessary to maintain the viability of the Afghan security forces," he explained.

The Pentagon has not yet made an official response to the Senators’ message. However, the US Department of State disagreed with their conclusions. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “Were this contract to be canceled, it would seriously hurt our effort to get the Afghans increasingly into the lead of their own security. The Afghan government is not in a position in its current state to fund all of its own existing security requirements.”

The West reproached Moscow for arms supplies to Damascus many times before, but the Russian Foreign Ministry insists that international legislation is not abused, because no destabilizing weapons are supplied to Syria.

The State Duma on Tuesday expressed surprise over the US senators’ statement. The Russian legislators dismissed this demarche by their overseas counterparts as “populist.”

“When it decided to purchase Russian helicopters, the Pentagon proceeded from charity considerations,” the daily Novyie Izvestia quotes the chairman of the public council under the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Korotchenko, as saying.

“Our aircraft are less costly and better adjusted to Afghan conditions. Besides, the Afghan maintenance personnel would have to be retrained,” said Korotchenko, the director of the Center for World Arms Trade Analysis.

“This is either a rather clumsy political escapade, or an attempt to score political points with rather cheap grandstand play,” Korotchenko told the on-line periodical Nakanune.RU. “In this particular case the Pentagon’s interests are in conflict with the interests of a certain group of individuals in the US Senate. There are no reasons to expect that the Pentagon will cancel the contract, because in the first place it is beneficial for the Americans themselves.”

The Pentagon just does not have enough time to retrain Afghan pilots and the local maintenance personnel to use American aircraft. The Afghans are used to operating Russian copters. And the US troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by 2014, said the director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, Ruslan Pukhov. “Retraining flight and maintenance personnel would take too much time, and would cost the US treasury far more than the sturdy Mi-17, well familiar to the Afghans. Besides, the Mi-17s are a later version of the Mi-8 the Afghans have known so well since the years of Soviet occupation,” he said.

State Duma member Pavel Dorokhin, who is an adviser to the Rosoboronexport’s director-general, is certain that the American side will not sever the contract.

“There is a certain lobby, which is reluctant to let the Russians in. But even despite that lobby the contract has worked,” he said.

Analysts say that Russia in any case will not agree to break up relations with the Bashar Assad regime, which provides multi-billion contracts for the Russian arms manufacturing industries. Suffice it to recall that the overall sum of arms supply contracts to Damascus is estimated at no less than five billion dollars. Even the loss of a one-billion-dollar contract with the Pentagon next to it would look insignificant.

The loss of the Syrian market, says the daily Novyie Izvestia, would deal a powerful blow on the Russian arms manufacturing industry, which has already lost no less than 4.5-billion contracts with Libya and 13 billion dollars on canceled arms supply contracts with Iran.

Moscow will certainly not give up arms sales to Syria, Korotchenko says with certainty. “Arms supplies to Syria are continuing and they will continue, we are not violating any norms of international law, our supplies are fully legitimate. Besides, the equipment that we supply to Syria is not used against the internal armed mutiny.”

In the Russian blogosphere there are quite a few commentaries on this subject, reflecting the state of the public mind. Most of them are critical of the US senators’ move and of the US policies in the Middle East in general.

“The hypocrisy and arrogance of the Yankees is just amazing!” says a blogger nicknamed Crocozebra. “Doesn’t Russia’s permission to US transport planes to fly over its territory to Afghanistan indirectly sponsor the killings of civilians in Afghanistan? The United States sells weapons to Israel and the Israeli military uses it to kill Palestinians. Why do the US senators keep quiet about that?”

“I would be surprised if the Americans behaved differently! The country protects its interests and its arms manufacturers in all possible ways. Any lie is good, provided it benefits the United States and Israel,” says blogger Petruha.


MOSCOW, March 14