Russia to sell at least 10 MiG fighters to Syria

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By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's MiG aircraft maker said Friday it plans to sign a new agreement to ship at least 10 fighter jets to Syria, a move that comes amid international criticism of earlier Russian weapons deals with Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

MiG's director general, Sergei Korotkov, said a Syrian delegation was in Moscow to discuss the details of a new contract for the delivery of MiG-29 M/M2 fighters. In remarks carried by Russian news agencies, he said Syria wants to buy "more than 10" such fighters, but wouldn't give the exact number.

The significance of his comments was unclear. A MiG spokesman wouldn't comment on Korotkov's statement, and the MiG chief could be referring to a deal the company previously negotiated with Syria that apparently has been put on hold amid Syria's brutal two-year civil war.

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More than 70,000 people have died in the fighting and millions of Syrians have fled the country.

Moscow has shipped billions of dollars' worth of missiles, combat jets, tanks, artillery and other military gear to Syria over more than four decades. Syria now is Russia's last remaining ally in the Middle East and hosts the only naval base Moscow has outside the former Soviet Union.

Russia has shielded Assad from U.N. sanctions and has continued to provide his regime with weapons despite the uprising against him that began in March 2011.

Russian media reports say Syria placed an order a few years ago for 12 MiG-29 M2 fighters with an option of buying another 12. The Stockholm Peace Research Institute also has reported that Russia planned to provide Syria with 24 of the aircraft.

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The MiG-29 M2 is an advanced version of the MiG-29 twin-engine fighter jet, which has been a mainstay of the Soviet and Russian air force since mid-1980s. Syria had about 20 fighters of the original make among scores of other Soviet- and Russian-built aircraft.

Russia has said it's only providing Assad with weapons intended to protect Syria from a foreign invasion, such as air defense missile systems, and is not delivering weapons that could be used in the civil war.

But the delivery of MiGs would contradict that claim and expose Russia to global criticism, so the Kremlin might think twice before giving the go-ahead.

Another recent Russian jet deal with Damascus, a contract to deliver Yak-130 combat training jets that could also be used for ground attacks, apparently has been put on hold amid the civil war.

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