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Malaysia to Buy 18 Russian-Made Jet Fighters - 2003-05-19

Malaysia has announced it will buy 18 Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters worth $900 million. The deal may reflect a broader trend in the current international political climate.

Malaysia's Defense Minister Najib Razak announced the deal had been reached in principle after meeting with his Russian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur Monday.

He says the purchase of the 18 Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jets is part of a modernization program, to add multi-role combat aircraft to the country's forces.

This Russian agreement comes as a major United States deal remains in limbo. Malaysia has placed a $1 billion purchase of U.S. F-18 Super Hornet Fighters on hold, partially for budget reasons and partially because of the political climate following the U.S. led war in Iraq.

Malaysia officially condemned the U.S. invasion even more strongly than Russia, reflecting the bitter opposition Malaysia's mainly Muslim population felt to the war. Writing a $1 billion check at this time to the U.S. Boeing Corporation, one of the biggest suppliers for the Iraq War, could open up Malaysian leaders to charges of hypocrisy, and other forms of political risk.

Southeast Asian Politics Professor William Case of Australia's Griffith University says Malaysia's leaders are reluctant to trust the United States. "There is much suspicion too about the United States' motivations and objectives and that stuff seems to have taken root within the bureaucracy so I expect Malaysia will continue to look around for a variety of suppliers," he said.

For the moment, Malaysia is looking toward Russia. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov says he looks forward to serious cooperation with Malaysia on military technology. And Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to visit Kuala Lumpur sometime before fall.