MELBOURNE, Australia — The Philippines has confirmed it is in the process of canceling a contract to acquire Russian-built transport helicopters, citing changes in priorities brought on by world events.

National Defense Department spokesman Arsenio Andolong said in a statement carried by the Philippines’ national news agency that the government is currently formalizing the termination of the contract with Russia’s Sovtechnoexport for 16 Mi-17 helicopters.

“We are also preparing to initiate a diplomatic dialogue with the Russian side regarding matters arising from the project’s cancellation,” Andolong said, adding cryptically that “changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments resulted in the cancellation of the project by the previous administration.”

He also said efforts are being made to retrieve the $48.2 million down payment for the helicopters made in January.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana previously told The Associated Press that the government was canceling the $322.3 million deal due to concerns over potential U.S. sanctions. He also said the decision was approved by then-President Rodrigo Duterte, whose administration had signed the contract for the helicopters in November 2021.

The Philippines insisted as recently as March 2022 that the procurement would go ahead despite the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began Feb. 24.

Those buying Russian arms could be hit with sanctions under the U.S. law Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. The law was passed in 2017 and is meant to discourage governments or entities from acquiring weapons as well as military hardware and parts from American adversaries like Iran, North Korea and Russia.

Without the Mi-17s, the Philippines would be left with an outstanding requirement for heavy transport helicopters. The Mi-17 was chosen because of its relatively spacious cabin as well as its rear ramp or clamshell doors (depending on the variant).

Transport helicopters are a vital component of the Philippine military; the country is an archipelagic nation made up of more than 7,000 islands and is beset with natural disasters and ongoing insurgencies. Its existing fleet of transport helicopters are often engaged in relief operations or transporting troops and equipment.

The Mi-17 has similar payload capabilities to several Western transport helicopter types, but its price was a draw for the Philippines, with the country seeking to modernize its aging and modest military in the face of a tight budget.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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