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Can Hungary still buy Russian military helicopters?

March 9th, 2016

A well-known liberal commentator ponders whether Hungary might yet gamble and strike a deal with Moscow to buy or renovate Russian-made military choppers – despite American warnings.

Despite the absence of a public announcement, future Hungarian-Russian cooperation to renew Hungary’s aging helicopter fleet cannot be excluded, suggests Endre Aczél, a veteran analyst of diplomatic and military affairs in an op-ed piece in Népszabadság. Two years have passed since Csaba Hende, then Minister of Defence of Hungary promised to hold a competitive tender for the purchase of helicopters, the author notes, but nothing has happened so far. To purchase 30 new helicopters Hungary would need to pledge about 170 billion Forints, he adds, but there is no such item in the budget for 2016. The author recalls how Washington allegedly warned Viktor Orbán before his visit to Moscow earlier this year (See Budapost February 19th, 2016) against striking a deal to buy Russian helicopters instead of NATO ones, and how the government denied even bringing up the issue there, after the talks. The Russians, however, are longing for the possibility of gaining a foothold on the European arms market, where they have no real position, the article explains, suggesting that there is a chance for a future deal between Putin and Orbán, even if it is not particularly likely. Aczél also notes that while other Visegrád countries have scrapped or are getting rid of their Russian-made choppers, in Hungary the fleet has survived, and the Mi–8 and Mi–17 helicopters are in need of repair or renovation. Considering the case of the Paks nuclear power plant extension (see BudaPost November 20th, 2015), and how the first Orbán cabinet decided to procure Swedish-made Gripen fighters instead of American F-16s, the paper cautions, the Americans must have got wind of how much the Hungarian Prime Minister is inclined to do business with those from whom he can expect the biggest gains. And the Russians will be interested in making a more tempting offer than other manufacturers, the author suspects, if one day Hungary goes ahead with the decision to renew its chopper fleet.

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