In defiance of international efforts to topple President Bashar Assad, Russia announced on Monday it signed a $550 million deal to sell 36 combat aircraft to Syria.

According to a report in Russia’s Kommersant, the deal for the Yak-130 aircraft was signed in December.

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Production is expected to begin once Syria makes its first payment for the planes.

Russia and Syria began negotiations over the possible sale of Yak-130 advanced fighter trainers in late 2010. The plane is operational in Algeria and Libya, and if delivered to Syria would likely replace its older fleet of L-39 trainers.

Syria would likely order an armed configuration of the aircraft so it can be used as to train pilots and bomb ground targets.

Moscow is one of Assad’s few remaining allies, and is still serving top arms customer Syria, while joining China in an October veto of a Western- crafted UN Security Council resolution that threatened an arms embargo.

Syria spent up to $700m. on Russian arms in 2010, some 7 percent of Russia’s total of $10 billion in arms deliveries abroad, according to the Russian defense think tank CAST. Russian Navy ships also recently docked in Tartus as another demonstration of support for the embattled Assad.

Russia recently completed the delivery of advanced supersonic Yakhont anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria as part of a deal negotiated in 2007. In December, Syria test-fired one of the Yakhont missiles during a series of war games aimed at signaling Assad’s continued control over the Syrian military.

Earlier this month a ship full of ammunition from Russia was detained in Cyprus. The ship was released the next day and sailed to Tartus.

The United States said it raised concerns about the ship with Russia, but Moscow replied that it needs no justification for its defense trade with Syria as there is no internationally binding arms embargo in place.

Reuters contributed to the report.

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