Further bolstering its military ties with Russia and expanding its own military machine beyond its local needs, Sri Lanka has entered into yet another contract with Russia’s state-run arms enterprise, Rosoboronexport, to purchase different modifications of Mi-17 military helicopters, reports from Colombo and Moscow said. While Rajapasa-critics in Colombo said the purchase is ‘managed’ by SL Presidential sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa through a so-called State-owned company, which is neither controlled by the SL Auditor General nor listed on the Stock Exchange, the Eezham Tamil circles said the military transport gunships are to be deployed in the ongoing SL militarisation of the country of Eezham Tamils.
SL President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited Russia with a 43-member team in June 2011
“A corresponding contract for supplying the helicopters will be carried out on account of the Russian state credit given to Sri Lanka by Russia in 2010 for purchasing Russian armaments,” Russia’s state news agency, ITAR-TASS, said on Wednesday without giving any further details on the deal.
It is reported that the Ulan-Ude Aviation Works, which is engaged in producing helicopters of four modifications including multi-purpose Mi-171, cargo-passenger Mi-171A and military-transport Mi-171 Sh, will fulfil the contract.
Russia and Sri Lanka have already signed a $300 million ten-year loan to buy armaments and dual-purpose technology for Sri Lanka’s military. This was among many agreements signed between the two countries during a working visit to Moscow early this year by Sri Lanka’s President – the first in the history of bilateral relations.
The announcement of latest deal between Russia and Sri Lanka comes as Sri Lanka this week discussed exploration and purchasing of natural gas with Russia’s natural gas monopoly Gazprom, in what may herald the return of Russian oil explorers to the island’s waters.
Spokesmen for Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry and the Sri Lanka Air Force both have said they were unaware of the deal for the Mi-171s. But Air Force spokesman Group Captain Andrew Wijesuriya has told Reuters in Colombo that the military was aiming to expand its foray into civilian tourism.
“We are looking to contribute for civil air transportation industry through the expansion of our Helitours operations,” the Air Force spokesman has been quoted as saying.
Several Russian helicopters and MiG-27 supersonic war jets are already dominating the flying squadrons of the Sri Lanka Air Force, which is credibly accused of bombing known civilian targets and even hospitals in violations of all international norms in the name of hitting LTTE targets.
Sri Lanka, which has a $50 billion economy, forecast a 6.3 percent increase in defence spending to 215.2 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) in 2011 and its high military spending since the end of the war has drawn opposition criticism.
Since the end of the war with Tamil Tigers in May 2009, Russia, China and India have been increasing cooperation with Sri Lanka’s hawkish Rajapaksa government and are among its biggest benefactors in terms of global political capital.
If India is giving all-out protection to the genocidal Rajapaksa regime in other international forums such as UN Human Rights Council and European Union, Russia and China, both with UN Security Council vetoes, have been helping Sri Lanka against mounting Western pressure for an international probe over the credible war crime allegation committed by its troops during the final months of the war.
Though the Rajapaksa government has been celebrating the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) the country is still on the military footing and heavily armed military personnel guarding every corner of the streets throughout the occupied country of Eezham Tamils in the North and East of the island, is a common sight.
Commenting the latest military deal, a defence analyst in Colombo said that the middle-man for the deal, which is none other than the SL presidential sibling and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, will enjoy the benefit more than the country does.
Aiming to ensure that all military deals go through him, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa set up a company in 2007, named Lanka Logistics and Technologies Limited, to make all procurements of equipment for SL armed forces.
At least a dozen combat and transport Mi-24 and Mi-17 types of gunships have been destroyed by the Tigers in the war.
“However, I do not see the immediate need for such a large fleet of helicopters for the air force, considering the fact that the war is over two years ago,” the defence analyst said.
“The move will substantially strengthen the international bank balances of the Rajapaksa brothers, and hit the country’s war-ravaged economy. They are bankrupting the country in the name of defence and patriotism,” the Colombo-based analyst said on condition of anonymity.