Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Saudi Arabia set to buy 30 Russian military helicopters

Russia is concluding talks with Saudi Arabia on selling 30 Mi-171B helicopters, a source close to the negotiations said. "We are in a final stage of talks on the purchase of 30 helicopters and hope to sign the deal in September," the source told RIA Novosti. The Mi-171 is an export version of the Mi-8 Hip multipurpose helicopter. Currently in production at two factories in the Russian Volga city of Kazan and the East Siberian city of Ulan-Ude, it features more powerful turbo-shaft engines and can carry up to 37 passengers.

The Arab state has traditionally bought only Western, mainly U.S.-made, civilian and military equipment, but has recently expressed an interest in acquiring Russian weaponry, including S-400 air defense systems, T-90 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles, and various types of helicopters. Russian analysts linked the Saudi interest in Russian weapons with a change in the kingdom's political priorities and the difficulties it has encountered in purchasing weaponry from the West since the September 11 terrorist attacks, masterminded and performed mostly by Saudi citizens.

Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported in July that Russia and Saudi Arabia discussed a number of deals worth an estimated $4 billion a year and a half ago, when the country's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal visited Moscow. Saudi Arabia's defense budget currently exceeds $33 billion, and is expected to reach $44 billion in 2010.


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