Russia's state-run United Aviation Corporation (UAC) does not plan to bid for a $50 billion contract to replace the U.S. Air Force fleet of air tankers, a company source told Reuters on Monday.
John Kirkland, a Los Angeles-based attorney, had told various news media over the weekend that UAC would announce a joint venture on Monday with a U.S. defense contractor to enter the bidding for the lucrative tanker deal against Europe's EADS
However, a source at UAC said: We do not have any plans to bid for the contract.
The U.S. Air Force has been trying for nearly a decade to replace its fleet of Boeing-built KC-135 tanker aircraft, which are close to 50 years old. EADS, the parent company of Airbus, won a deal in 2008 to build an initial 179 tankers, only to have that award canceled after auditors intervened.
Kirkland quoted Alexander Shishkin, whom he said worked for the Russian Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation, as saying the U.S.-Russian joint venture being formed to bid would be announced at UAC headquarters on Monday morning.
However Shishkin, when contacted by Reuters on Monday, said he could not say anything. He would not even confirm he worked for the Federal Service of Military-Technical Cooperation.
I cannot say anything until the bosses decide something, he said.
When asked if he represented Russia or the Russian Federal Agency for Weapons Sales, he said: I am very sorry, I cannot speak right now as I am in a meeting. I cannot say anything right now.
An official at the agency said that there was nobody called Alexander Shishkin listed as working there.
Kirkland claimed that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had discussed a UAC bid for the air tanker contract at a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow on Friday.
Clinton was visiting Moscow on Friday but officials did not mention at the time any discussions about a tanker bid. Clinton held a bilateral meeting with Lavrov on Thursday and met President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Friday separately.
Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov was flying to a provincial city on Monday and was not immediately available for comment.
Kirkland claimed that a Russian bid would be based on a widebody version of UAC's Ilyushin-96 aircraft, which he said would be called the Ilyushin-98.
Fewer than 30 Ilyushin-96 aircraft have been produced. The plane is considered technically inferior to Western competitors and Russian news media reported last year that production of the passenger variant had been canceled although a cargo version is still in limited production.
There has never been any report in Russia of a new version of the Il-96 called the Il-98.
(Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov and Guy Faulconbridge, writing by Michael Stott)