No MiG-31E for Syria: Russian chief arms exporter

The head of Russia's arms export monopoly, Sergey Chemizov, says there are no plans to supply MiG combat fighters to Syria and Iran. The statement comes after Russia's Kommersant newspaper reported the country had started delivery of the MiG-31E fighter j

The daily claimed the aircrafts are being provided under a new deal estimated to be worth US $1 BLN. The deal was reportedly negotiated during the Syrian President's trip to Moscow last year.

A contract with Syria would be the first export deal for the MiG-31E, a heavy twin-engine interceptor fighter capable of flying at nearly Mach 3 speed and simultaneously attacking several targets.

The State MiG Russian Aviation Construction Corporation has confirmed export orders have started to come in for the fighters, but are not revealing the sources of their orders.

Commenting on the controversial media reports, Russia's Foreign Ministry says: "All of Russia's deals in the area of military-technical co-operation comply with international law and Russia's obligations under various treaties and the United Nations resolution.''

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moscow was the main weapons supplier to Syria. Later the two countries lost contact.

Two years ago, the situation changed as both nations have moved toward renewing their economic, military and political ties. In 2005, Moscow agreed to write off nearly 3/4 of Syria's $US 13.4 BLN debt, in a bid to boost links and win a wider influence in the region.

At the beginning of this year, Russia's arms-trade monopoly Rosoboronexport signed a contract to supply five MiG-31E fighter-interceptors to Damascus. Since production of the MiGs was halted in 1994, Syria was receiving planes from the Russian Air Force reserves. They were modified to the purchaser's specifications.

In addition to Syria, Russia's other active partners concerning military-technical co-operation in the Middle East are Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. In March last year, Russian deal with Algeria reached $US 7.5 BLN and made one of the biggest contracts in the region for two years. Fighters, including the well-known MiG and Su, training planes, tanks, antiaircraft-missile equipment and air defence systems are the most popular in trade deals.

Military officials say Syria and Iran do not have such impressive numbers, but recognise there is concern from Western players over Russia's connections. The United States and Israel top the list of those worried, claiming that the weapons supplied to these Middle East countries could be used by terror-linked organisations.