MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government will proceed with a deal to purchase 17 military transport helicopters from Russia that was signed and partially paid for before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the defense chief said Wednesday.
The 12.7 billion-peso ($249 million) contract to acquire Mi-17 helicopters was signed in November and the Philippines made an initial payment in January, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.
“We do not see any likelihood of it being scrapped as of this moment,” he said.
Under the agreement, the first batch of the multipurpose helicopters is to be delivered by Russia’s Sovtechnoexport about 24 months after President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term ends in June. Asked if Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will affect the purchase, Lorenzana told reporters, “Only time will tell.”
The helicopters can be used for combat, search and rescue operations and medical evacuations, officials said.
The Philippines voted yes on a U.N. General Assembly resolution that demanded an immediate halt to Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and the withdrawal of all Russian troops. It has condemned the invasion and echoed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s appeal for respect of humanitarian principles to protect civilians and civilian infrastructures in Ukraine.
Duterte has expressed concern over the global impact of the Russian invasion but has not personally condemned it. He has nurtured close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he once called his “idol,” and Chinese leader Xi Jinping while frequently criticizing U.S. security policies early in his presidency. The Philippines is a treaty ally of Washington, which has imposed heavy sanctions aimed at pressuring Moscow to pull back from Ukraine.
The deal to acquire the Russian helicopters was among several weapons purchase agreements signed during Duterte’s final months in office. Last month, Lorenzana signed a 32 billion-peso ($627 million) deal to acquire 32 S-70i Black Hawk helicopters from Poland-based aerospace manufacturer PZL Mielec. It was the largest military aircraft acquisition contract signed under Duterte, whose term ends in June.
Due to financial constraints, the Philippines has struggled for years to modernize its military, one of the most underfunded in Asia, to deal with decades-long Muslim and communist insurgencies and to defend its territories in the disputed South China Sea.