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US to ship Russian-made helicopters to Ukraine

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
File photo of a Russia-made Mi-17 helicopter

Washington is reportedly expediting the shipment to Ukraine of five Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters that were originally purchased from Moscow for the former US-backed Afghan government before it surrendered to the Taliban last August.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki confirmed during her Friday press briefing that the US Congress has been notified of the move, which will be pushed through under the Excess Defense Articles program amid Washington’s persisting claims and orchestrated Western media campaign that Russia intends to invade Ukraine despite Moscow’s repeated denials.

The announcement came after the US State Department stated on Thursday that this was the “fastest transfer ever” of military hardware by the US government, RT reported Saturday.

According to the report, the helicopters are already in Ukraine, which was servicing them on behalf of the US military and was supposed to ship them to Afghanistan until the Taliban takeover disrupted the move.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexey Reznikov had put in a request for the Russian helicopters from the US Defense Department back in November, along with ammunition also earmarked for the defunct Afghan Army, the US-based Foreign Policy journal reported last month.

The Mi-17 was designed in the late 1970s as an upgrade to the Mi-8 transport, according to the report. It is still known as Mi-8M in Russian service, with Mi-17 being its export designation. It is still in production at the helicopter plant in Kazan, east of Moscow.

The US military had spent approximately $648 million by mid-2010 to buy 30 of the helicopters for the Afghan National Army (ANA), and asked Congress for funding for another 10, only to draw criticism for not purchasing American-made aircraft.

American military officials, however, argued that the Mi-17 was designed with Afghanistan in mind, that the Afghans were more familiar with it, and that it was easier to operate than US-made Blackhawks or Hueys. 

Plans to purchase “dozens” more Mi-17s for the ANA, as well as some for the US Special Operations Command to help disguise clandestine missions, reportedly ran into pushback from Congress and cost issues, the Washington Post reported in June 2010, after Russia raised the price of the helicopters to what it described as “exorbitant” levels.

Meanwhile, much of the hardware the US has supplied to Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban last year, among them a number of Mi-17s, Mi-35 gunships, and even the US-made Blackhawk helicopters, as well as Humvees, armored vehicles, and various small arms.

The US has echoed Ukraine’s claims of a looming Russian “invasion” since November, though Moscow has brushed off the accusations as “fake news” while insisting on talks with the US and NATO on security guarantees in Europe instead.

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