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    Thailand spurns U.S., buys Russian helicopters

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    In a break with tradition, the Thai government has decided to buy several transport helicopters from Russia, a Russian business daily reported on Thursday.

    MOSCOW, October 23 (RIA Novosti) - In a break with tradition, the Thai government has decided to buy several transport helicopters from Russia, a Russian business daily reported on Thursday.

    Until now Thailand has only bought arms and military equipment from the United States, but according to Kommersant, Thai Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, who is also defense minister, has signed off on a $27.5 million deal to buy three Mi-17 (Hip) transport helicopters.

    "It is a civilian modification, but the helicopter is a dual purpose machine," a source in the defense industry was quoted as saying.

    The Thai armed forces currently have over 200 U.S.-built helicopters, but almost half of them are more than 20 years old and not operational. In the past year there have been seven accidents involving military helicopters involving casualties.

    This is the first time that the Southeast Asian country has let down its military ally, the U.S., and chosen Russia, according to Alexei Kirichenko, an associate professor at the Institute of Asian and African Studies.

    "Moscow has repeatedly tried to sell military equipment to Thailand, but all of those deals were invariably blocked, mainly for political reasons," he said.

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