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Former Soviet states are favored for missile systems

A top Vietnamese military official visited Belarus this month to continue his country's purchase program of Soviet-designed weapons for its air missile defense program, RFA's Vietnamese service reports.

Gen. Bui Dang Phiet, deputy commander of Vietnam's air force, visited Belarus Oct. 28-Nov. 7, according to the Belarus defense ministry.

During the visit, Gen. Phiet�who has responsibility for air defense and armaments procurement�met his Belarus counterpart Anatoly Vankovich, to discuss "military-technical cooperation," the ministry said.

The visit comes soon after Vietnam signed a deal with Russia in August for the import of two Soviet-designed S300 PMU1 air defense batteries�or 12 missile launchers�for an estimated US$300 million.

The S300 PMU is a more advanced version of the SA-10C Grumble air defense missile.

The purchasing trip to Belarus is the latest in a series of attempts by Hanoi to boost its military capabilities with Russian weapons, owing to its familiarity with Soviet arms during the Vietnam War.

In March 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Hanoi and announced a new strategic partnership with Vietnam. The Russian leader said that "Vietnam needs not just to maintain its existing weapons bought from the Soviet Union and Russia but also needs modern weapons."

In March 2002, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov went to Hanoi and pledged to supply advanced weapons to Vietnam.

In recent years, Vietnam has purchased Russian Sukhoi fighter-bombers, and an anti-ship missile system. In 1995, Hanoi bought six Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighter jets for $150 million. And in 1997, it signed a contract for six more planes and spare parts. Moscow has been selling Su-27 aircraft with combat range of 3,680 kilometers to Vietnam, as well as China.

Vietnam has also found ways to acquire Russian weaponry through unofficial channels.

In October 2002, customs officers in St. Petersburg found spare parts for state-of-the-art Russian anti-aircraft systems in containers bound for Vietnam, labeled as automobile parts. The incident does not appear to have affected S300 sales, however.#####


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