In the wake of the United States Senate slashing military assistance to Sri Lanka, the Russian Federation has stepped in to fill the vacuum, sending the first ever top level military delegation to Colombo to discuss military cooperation. A high level Russian military delegation led by Colonel General Vladimir Moltenskoy last week met Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Army Commander Lt Gen Sarath Fonseka and Air Force Commander, Roshan Goonathilake and visited several major military installations in the island. Gen Molpenskoy, a veteran combat General in the Russian Army was formerly the operational commander of the Russian Forces in Chechnya.
A diplomatic source touted the visit by the Russian delegation as a precursor to stepped up military cooperation with Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan Air Force uses a large array of Russian aircraft, but procures them from the Ukraine due to the cheaper prices offered by Kiev. Earlier, Russia offered to sell MIG 29 Air Superior fighter jets, but the deal was stalled due to budgetary concerns. It is not only the Russians, who are making a foray into the Sri Lankan arms market. Pakistan has increased its annual military assistance loan by US 31 million dollars.
This will increase the total annual Pakistani assistance to US 80 million dollars. Meanwhile, India has also offered US 100 million dollar credit line to Sri Lanka for the procurement of military supplies from India. India, however, keeping to its policy on not selling lethal weapon systems to Sri Lanka, has restricted Indian supplies offered under the credit line to military and civilian vehicles and air defence systems.
India earlier provided several low flying detecting Infra II radar systems to Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile the battle for the control of the Vavuniya-Mannar forward defence line is likely to reach a decisive stage very soon, the Defence Ministry said Saturday while announcing that troops had overrun the Tiger bunker line on the closed Uliyankulam crossover point.
`The ground situation along the Mannar and Vavuniya defences might reach a decisive stage soon,` the Defence Ministry said yesterday afternoon.
The Ministry said that government troops had advanced upto the Tiger entry-exit point north of its government counterpart at Uliyankulam yesterday morning. It said that at least six Tigers had been killed, over 10 injured and five bunkers destroyed.
`Five bunkers along the Uyilankulama LTTE defences were seized by security forces, while identified LTTE ground constructions have come under concentrated artillery and mortar barrages by advancing troops.`
The Media Centre for National Security put the Tiger death toll at eight. Both sides exchanged heavy artillery fire along the line of control south of Jaffna in the last seventy two hours as well.
Fighting has intensified along the FDL on either side of the Wanni in the last month and in the last fortnight fighting has erupted in the Kokkuthuduwai-Kokilai sector, in Weli-oya north east of Vavuniya. Between December 20 and 22 over 40 combatants, including 25 Tigers have been killed in the fighting, according to military sources. The Tigers have however denied high casualties and said their losses were far less and that it was the Sri lankan security Forces that had suffered heavy casualties.
Tigers have bolstered the defences with cadres and the presence of high rankers like Bhanu, Jeyama and Vidusha, the military head of the female Tigers.