The Philippines has terminated the $227 million deal to purchase 16 Mil Mi-17 multi-purpose helicopters from Russia, fearing possible US sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.
Former Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said on July 26 that he scrapped the deal to acquire the Russian military transport helicopters in a decision taken in June that then-President Rodrigo Duterte approved before the end of his term in office on June 30, reported the Associate Press.
“We could face sanctions,” Lorenzana told the AP.
The contract for acquiring 16 Mi-17 helicopters was announced in November 2021. Per the agreement’s terms, the first batch of helicopters was scheduled for delivery by Russia’s Sovtechnoexport in 2023.
The helicopters were expected to perform combat, search and rescue operations, and medical evacuations in the Southeast Asian archipelago, which suffers from frequent typhoons and other natural disasters.
The helicopter deal will now undergo a “termination process,” according to a Philippine military official who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. The official said that Russians could appeal; however, it is unlikely that the Philippine government would be persuaded to reconsider.
When asked by reporters in March whether the Ukraine war would affect the deal, Lorenzana said, “We do not see any likelihood of it being scrapped as of this moment,” adding that “only time can tell.”
Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Manuel Romualdez told the AP that the decision to cancel the deal was taken due to the possibility of sanctions by Washington, according to a US federal law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).
Lorenzana had also said in March that an initial payment for the purchase of helicopters was made in January. Now that the Philippine government has scrapped the deal, it remains unclear what would happen to the already done payment.
Russian Arms Industry In A Tight Spot
Several Asian countries buy arms from the US and Russia. The Philippines is one of the several US allies in Asia, including Indonesia, Vietnam, India, etc., who buy weapons and equipment from Russia, and are in a desperate strait due to the US sanctions.
In December 2021, Indonesia “with a heavy heart,” scrapped a $1.14 billion deal signed with Russia in 2018 to buy 11 Sukhoi Su-35 jets, reportedly due to the fear of possible CAATSA sanctions by the US.
Similarly, Vietnam is also one of the US’ closest strategic partners in Southeast Asia, but at the same time, it is dependent on Russia for 80% of its arms requirement.
So far, Washington has turned a blind eye toward Vietnam’s purchases of Russian arms, but according to experts, the Russian invasion of Ukraine could change that.
Vietnam has not made any significant acquisitions from Russia in the past few years. Still, recent reports suggest Hanoi is interested in buying Su-35 or possibly even the fifth generation Su-57 stealth fighters from Russia.
The threat of CAATSA sanctions loomed over India due to its purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system until the US House of Representatives approved legislation calling for an India-specific waiver under CAATSA.
However, similar purchases by other countries, such as Turkey, have been met with sanctions under CAATSA. The waiver for India has been requested by US lawmakers, keeping in mind that India is a reliable partner of the US in the Indo-Pacific to counter the emerging threat from China.
Nevertheless, sanctions against Russia have affected India’s procurement of Russian arms and equipment. For example, the planned upgrade of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) 85 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jets has been hampered because of sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine War, as per a recent EurAsian Times report.
The upgrade was vital as it involved the installation of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and various other improvements to avionics and electronics that would have put the Indian Su-30 MKIs in the Generation 4++ category.
Furthermore, sanctions have also impeded a deal between India and Russia to produce 12 Sukhoi MKI fighters to replace the jets lost in accidents over the past decade.
Per a EurAsian Times report in March, there were concerns that the sanctions could affect even the delivery of spare parts for the fighter jets, causing serviceability problems for India’s Su-30 fleet.