Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NATO 'no comment' on Russian warplane deal

NATO declined to comment on Wednesday on a report saying it could use Russian Sukhoi Su-27 fighters at a Cold War-era base in Iceland for training purposes.

The Financial Times reported on Monday the Icelandic government is in talks on renting an airbase to a private company, ECA, that says it is buying up to $1.5 bln of Sukhoi Su-27 warplanes from Belarus for use as a mock enemy in military training exercises.

The paper said ECA has agreed to buy 15 Su-27 jets from BelTechExport, a Belarusian arms export company, with an option for 18 more.

"We have studied this interesting report, but cannot comment because we do not have official information on the issue at hand," an official at the NATO headquarters in Brussels who requested anonymity said.

A Russian arms trade expert dismissed the FT report that NATO is going to buy Su-27 fighters in Belarus as a "spoof."
"Judging by the figures cited and the unprecedented nature of the contract in question, one can assume that it is a made-to-order article, which is designed to promote the ECA company," said Igor Korotchenko, head of a Moscow-based think tank on the international arms trade.

ECA Program says it has already signed up five air forces keen to test their pilots and jets against "an aircraft most commonly flown by the Russian and Chinese militaries."

BelTechExport denied knowledge of the deal on Monday, having previously confirmed it to the Financial Times.

According to the FT story, an official at the Belarusian agency responsible for approving arms exports said later he was not aware of it and Rosoboronexport, the Russian state arms exporter, denied involvement.

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