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Thailand chooses Russian helicopters over US'

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Thailand to buy three Mi-17 (Hip) helicopters from Russia

MOSCOW (BNS): Breaking away from standard practice, the Thailand government has decided to buy several transport helicopters from Russia.

Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is also the countrys defence minister, inked a $27.5 million deal with Russia to buy three Mi-17 (Hip) transport helicopters, Russian business daily Kommersant reported in its columns on Thursday.

According to the business daily, Thailand has bought arms and military equipment only from the United States.

RIA Novosti quoting a defence source said that it was a civilian modification, but the helicopter was a dual-purpose machine. The agency said that presently, Thai Armed Forces had over 200 US-built helicopters, but almost half of them were more than 20 years old and not in operation. In the last one year, there have been seven accidents, involving military helicopters resulting in casualties.

Meanwhile, Alexei Kirichenko, an associate professor at the Institute of Asian and African Studies said that this was the first time that the Southeast Asian country had let down its military ally, the US.

Moscow has repeatedly tried to sell military equipment to Thailand, but all of those deals were invariably blocked, mainly for political reasons, he said.

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