Despite an international arms embargo affecting both government and rebel forces, it appears that military equipment from the Former Soviet Union is still managing to make its way into the Ivory Coast, the Telegraph reports:
Gen Fall, who commands 6,000 troops, said there was evidence to suggest that the vehicles, which had been ordered by Ivory Coast’s army and brought in on a ship flying a Danish flag, had come from Russia. He urged that an official protest should be lodged.
The apparent violation of the embargo is not the only such example. In a separate document, Gen Fall reported that a man "speaking Russian on his mobile phone" was seen working on government-owned aircraft at Abidjan airport, with three other engineers.
And on another occasion five men of "East European origin" were seen inspecting military aircraft.
I’d say that there is a pretty strong chance this equipment came in with, if not the official sanction of an FSU state, then a nod and a wink. Whether it came originally from Belarus or Russia isn’t certain, although I’d say Belarus is certainly a strong candidate even though, as a landlocked country it would have to ship its wares through a foreign port (and perhaps this explains the Danish ship coming from a Russian port…).
Although there is an embargo in place, if a government supplying arms (lets say it is the aforementioned Belarus – for the sake of convenience, of course, and not at all to imply that they are the supplier in question) can circumvent that embargo it can realise significant benefits – both short and long term.
Many African countries, although they have the money to buy an air-force in the first place, lack the technical expertise or the infrastructure to maintain it. They lack the ability to manufacture spare parts, they lack technicians and, most importantly, they lack the trained pilots to turn an unwieldy hunk of metal into an effective airborne killing machine. So usually, whenever an African country buys an aircraft from a FSU state, they buy a ‘care package’ to go with it, including a technical support staff and pilots. (This isn’t to say that African states have no technicians or pilots at all, just that their own are usually less well trained. Imported expertise, although costlier, is far more proficient, and therefore more cost-effective).
The Ivory Coast will most likely have purchased one of these ‘care packages’ from Belarus, and will not be able to effectively operate their air force without outside support. For Belarus, even though there is now an embargo, there are strong incentives to continue this support, even if it means they have to do so in a manner that is technically illegal. Belarus, if it can prove its worth as a reliable supplier that continues to maintain its equipment, even in a demanding environment (i.e. an illegal one), will comprehensively demonstrate its reliability as a supplier. Belarus will be hoping that Ivory Coast will, after the embargo is over, make them their ‘supplier of choice’ and thus winning them contracts worth tens (perhaps hundreds) of millions of dollars. And the benefits wouldn’t just include a relationship with Ivory Coast either – in fact, the Ivory Coast are small fry compared to the potential market out there. There are plenty of other African governments in the market for an air-force, and many of these governments will also be concerned that they too might one day find themselves under an embargo. These governments will hopefully be so impressed by Belarus’ integrity, and dedication to fulfilling its obligations, that they too will make Belarus their first port of call when seeking out their next airborne killing machine.
Plus, of course, there is plenty of money to be made in the short-term from sanctions busting…
(Hat tip to Bill Roggio of Winds of Change for pointing me in the direction of the original Telegraph article).