Defense Focus: Helos for Jakarta -- Part 1

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   June 20, 2008 at 1:19 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, June 20 (UPI) -- Indonesia will take delivery of six Russian-built Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters next month as part of the $1 billion deal it signed with the Kremlin last year.

Indonesia's Antara news agency reported Wednesday that delivery of the six helicopters was coming soon.

RIA Novosti cited Nikolai Kireyev, director of the Russian national weapons exporting corporation Rosoboronexport, Jakarta office, as saying 15 Indonesian pilots and technical experts had already been preparing for the delivery by undergoing training courses at the Kazan helicopter manufacturing plant in Russia's Volga region since March.

According to the report, Kireyev also said the six helicopters were expected to be handed over sometime in July, but the details had yet to be finalized.

"The delivery date will be established after the parties finalize certain contract terms," he said.

Indonesia received its first two Mi-35 Hind helicopters from Russia in September 2003. But the upcoming shipment is part of the monster $1 billion deal that Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiated last September.

Putin, now prime minister, approved a $1 billion loan to allow Indonesia to purchase 22 Russian helicopters, 20 tanks and two submarines. Jakarta also announced plans to buy three multi-role Sukhoi Su-27 fighter bombers and three Su-30s fighters for around $350 million.

With the Russian treasury bulging from profits of huge oil and gas exports with world energy prices, especially for oil, spiking at ever higher prices, it could certainly easily afford to finance the deal. But it also has enormous geopolitical implications.

The deal marks a seismic shift in the global arms market. It is the biggest move of any major developing or oil-producing nation -- and Indonesia is both -- out of the sphere of U.S. or Western European arms manufacturers in decades.

RIA Novosti reported Thursday the deal was ignored by Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak and his Indonesian counterpart after it was hammered out by Putin and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Jakarta.

The deal was signaled by Indonesia's decision during the MAKS-2007 air show at Zhukovsky outside Moscow in August 2007 to purchase the six Sukhoi combat aircraft.

Indonesia has been a major ally of the United States for more than 40 years, and relations between Washington and Yudhoyono have been good, especially in cooperation in the war on terror. But Russia has been building its presence as a major arms supplier ever since the United States temporarily slammed an arms embargo on Indonesia over its role in East Timor during the Clinton administration in 1999.

The deal needs to be seen in the context of Putin's sustained and highly successful drive to build Russian influence and weapons sales opportunities through South and Southeast Asia, and especially in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a huge, sprawling region of 10 nations and 500 million people that is projected to account for 40 percent of global gross domestic product by 2040.

The deal for high-tech, complex weapons like helicopters, fighter aircraft and submarines effectively institutionalizes Russian diplomatic and military influence in Indonesia for years, possibly decades, to come.

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Next: Leveraging Russian arms sales influence

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