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Russia closes deal on $550 million worth of warplanes for Syria

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Khaled al-Hariri/REUTERS

(Read caption) A picture of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad is seen on a central bank building in Damascus January 23.

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Russia has closed a contract to sell half-a-billion dollars worth of warplanes to Syria, just the latest sign that Moscow intends to carry on business-as-usual with the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

According to the Moscow business daily Kommersant, the $550 million contract to purchase 36 Yak-130 Mitten combat trainers was signed in December, even as the 11-month-old uprising against four decades of rule by the Assad family was gathering steam and turning very bloody. According to United Nations estimates, more than 5,400 people have died since March, when the uprising began. 

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov last week dismissed any questions about Russian arms sales to Syria by saying "we don't consider it necessary to explain ourselves or justify ourselves, because we are not violating any international agreements or any [UN] Security Council resolutions."

The European Union approved an arms embargo on Syria last year. The UN Security Council has sought to do the same, but has been blocked by Russia, which has veto power. 

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