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Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the sidelines of the 33rd Asean Summit in Singapore last year. EPA PIC

MOSCOW: RUSSIAN President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad share a special bond.

Putin’s special aide, Dr Victor Kladov, told the New Straits Times that Putin held Dr Mahathir in “very high esteem” in a bid to propel Malaysia as a great nation.

“I can confide in you this (based on) the body language and numerous meetings between the two leaders. In fact, I shared this notion with Dr Mahathir during my meeting with him in Putrajaya, just days ago before I returned.

“My meeting was followed up with (Russia’s Security Council secretary) Nikolai Patrushev, who met Dr Mahathir last Tuesday to enhance cooperation,” he said at the MAKS 2019 aviation and space show at the Zhukovsky International Airport here.

Kladov, who is Rostec State Corporation’s international cooperation and regional policy director, said he was handpicked as Putin’s special emissary to build bilateral relations with Malaysia, and with Dr Mahathir in particular.

To emphasise Putin’s commitment to Malaysia, he said Dr Mahathir had been invited for the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok from Sept 4 to 6.

He said he had kept in close contact with Dr Mahathir since the first Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (Lima) exhibition in 1991.

“Over 28 years since the first Lima, Dr Mahathir has earned global respect for his vision of transforming Malaysia into a regional force in the aviation and aerospace industry, offering business and job spin-offs.

“Dr Mahathir revealed how he wants to thrust the aero-space industry as the nation’s economic driver by 2028, via indigenously-developed technological capabilities.

Dr Victor Kladov

“This includes the establishment of an aerospace college and then a university by then. Putin is aware of this and wants to give his full cooperation and support,” said Kladov, a key figure in Malaysia’s procurement of defence and aerospace assets.

The procurement included Malaysia’s space programme with Russia launching the nation’s first astronaut, Datuk Dr Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor Sheikh Mustapha, to the International Space Station in 2007.

Malaysia acquired billions of ringgit worth of Russian-made MiG-29N in 1995 and Sukhoi Su-30MKM jet fighters in 2003, via trade-offs involving palm oil.

Kladov said Putin was in favour of a complete buy-back of the 18 grounded Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) MiG-29N for two squadrons of new-generation stealth MiG-35 fighters.

He said he told Dr Mahathir that the MiG-35 fighters did away with smoky engines and were equipped with advanced and powerful fly-by-wire avionics, artificial intelligence, computers and weapons systems that minimised the pilot’s workload.

“Similarly, we are also looking at replacing the RMAF’s fleet of Sikorsky S-61 Nuri helicopters, which are half a century old. The newer generation Mi-171 helicopters... have been proven workhorses for the United Nations during the Afghanistan conflict.

“Also on the cards is Russia’s offer of Yak 130 light combat jets, on flexible terms, offset and transfer-of-technology deals that will offer a win-win situation for both nations.”

Rostec’s subsidiary, Russian Helicopters, is expected to sell eight units of Ansat, Mil Mi-8/17 and Kamov Ka-32A11DC to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency and Fire and Rescue Department.

Kladov added that Russia offered hydro-foil vessels to boost Malaysia’s island tourism industry, as these assets were cost-effective and efficient.

“We expect a decision on these matters during the two leaders’ rendezvous in Vladivostok soon.”

He said Putin appreciated Dr Mahathir’s efforts in synergising defence and aerospace assets by optimising the economics of scale via bulk purchases of similar types.

“By operating similar assets, there will be greater savings for spares, parts, logistics and maintenance,” he said.

He added that Putin shared Dr Mahathir’s interest in jointly developing other sectors, including the healthcare, education, agriculture and manufacturing industries.

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