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Russia sells copters to Turkey, gives MiGs to Lebanon

By MARTIN SIEFF

WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Russia has closed a deal to sell $1 billion of used helicopters to Turkey, a member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance for more than half a century.

The Turkish newspaper Vatan claimed Monday that the Ankara government was going to purchase 32 used Mir Mi-28 -- Havoc -- helicopters for $1 billion, RIA Novosti said.

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RIA Novosti cited Vatan as reporting that the Turks turned to the Kremlin after their original plans to buy Cobra and Super Cobra helicopter gunships from the United States fell through.

Military helicopters are an extremely important procurement priority for the Turkish armed forces because of the ongoing threat of renewed hostilities with Kurdish guerrilla forces in the Kurdish-majority southeastern corner of the country. More than a decade of violence there starting in the 1990s cost an estimated 70,000 lives.

The Turks had planned to eventually buy 52 Iranian-made Agusta A-129 Mangusta helicopters, jointly manufactured with Italy's AgustaWestland company under an agreement concluded in 2007.

RIA Novosti noted that the Turkish Defense Ministry had yet to announce whether the Vatan report was in fact true. It also described the Mi-28 as "an all-weather day-night attack helicopter manufactured by the Rostvertol plant in southern Russia."

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Russia gives Lebanon 10 MiG-29s as a gift

A senior Russian official announced Dec. 17 that the Kremlin was making a gift to Lebanon of 10 still highly effective MiG-29 -- NATO designation Fulcrum -- air superiority fighters.

The move will greatly boost the influence of Russia in Lebanon and give some needed strength and credibility to the Lebanese air force.

RIA Novosti, reporting the agreement, said each MiG-29 was worth $30 million new, making the deal theoretically worth up to $300 million -- almost one-third of a billion dollars.

The director of Russia's federal military cooperation service, Mikhail Dmitriyev, announced Wednesday that all the aircraft would be upgraded "to export standards." He also said that the gift could be followed by new arms agreements between Beirut and Moscow, saying both governments were already in negotiations about such a deal.

"Joint work with our Lebanese colleagues is under way now, dealing with the purchase of Russian armored vehicles, artillery and other military hardware, as well as other types of armaments," Dmitriyev announced, according to the report.

If those deals go through, Lebanese army personnel will be trained in Russia to operate the new weapons, Dmitriyev added.

The MiG-29 deal was publicly revealed in Moscow Dec. 16 by Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr after he held talks with Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.

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RIA Novosti said Serdyukov had been given a "shopping list" from the Lebanese armed forces that would be studied by Russian officials.

In effect, Russia would be in the favorable position of rebuilding the Lebanese air force from the ground up. Lebanon currently has almost no effective combat aircraft.

But the deal would also put Russian technicians and possibly servicemen in the front line as a tripwire against any future Israeli military strikes in Lebanon.

Over the past 30 years the Israeli air force has repeatedly carried out wide-ranging airstrikes throughout Southern Lebanon all the way up to Beirut in retaliation for attacks on Israeli civilians carried out first by the Palestine Liberation Organization and later by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, the Shiite Party of God.

RIA Novosti said the Lebanese air force currently operates old U.S. Bell UH-1 Iroquois combat helicopters of 1950s vintage and U.S.-built Robinson R44 Raven II civilian helicopters. In 2007 this small force was augmented by nine SA342L Gazelle helicopters from the United Arab Emirates.


Smiling Cubans throng visiting Russian warship

The Russian armed forces are famous for their obsession with secrecy and security, but it was all doors open to visitors and a warm welcome for ordinary Cubans Sunday when the Russian anti-submarine warfare -- ASW -- destroyer Admiral Chabanenko paid a high-profile courtesy visit to the Cuban capital Havana over the weekend.

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There were long lines of curious visitors waiting to come on board the Russian warship Sunday after it docked in Havana Harbor Friday, RIA Novosti reported.

The Admiral Chabanenko had previously navigated the Panama Canal, the first Russian or Soviet warship to do so in 64 years since the United States and the Soviet Union were allies during World War II.

RIA Novosti said the ASW destroyer was accompanied by two supply ships, the Ivan Bubnov and the SB-406. The small flotilla was scheduled to leave Havana Tuesday.

The news agency said there was a festive atmosphere Sunday, with families and other visitors of all agencies mixing with Russian sailors and visiting the ship.

The report said that the Havana visit was the last stop for the Admiral Chabanenko, which with the powerful guided missile battle-cruiser Pyotr Veliky -- Peter the Great -- has been showing the Russian flag around the Caribbean and Latin America, previously paying visits to Venezuela, Panama and Nicaragua and carrying out joint naval exercises with the Venezuelan navy.

The voyage was the latest in a continuing series of high-profile overseas naval missions launched in 2007 by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister, and now energetically continued by his successor, President Dmitry Medvedev.

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A second Russian Northern Fleet task force launched a mission to Portugal, a NATO member nation, Friday. That squadron is scheduled to traverse the Mediterranean and then carry out naval exercises with the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is currently monitoring U.S. and NATO warships signaling their support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

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