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Faina tanks for South Sudan: Ukrainians not innocent?

Credit: Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The 33 T-72 tanks and other weapons contained in the holds of the MV Faina, hijacked in September 2008 by Somali pirates, were indeed destined for South Sudan. The Americans have obtained proof of this. “The delivery of T-72 tanks, BM-1 GRAD armored vehicles, small arms, and other military equipment scheduled for shipment to Kenya in late June or early July were purchased by the Kenyan Ministry of Defense for South Sudan”. This information was known, very quickly, in the press when the BBC, knowledgeable, had come across a contract.

If Kenya seems involved in this arms transfer, it is not just Kenya. The State Department telegram, revealed by The Guardian, and published here (1), proves it. The Americans strongly suspect the Ukrainians of having, at the very least, turned a blind eye to the final destination, if not more. The discussion held by American and Ukrainian officials is going to be detoured.

A Ukrainian on the verge of a nervous breakdown…

Asked whether the Ukrainian authorities have started an investigation, his interlocutor replies that all contracts have been verified. Van Diepen, who is “Principal Deputy Assistant” at the State Department for International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN), then hands his Ukrainian counterpart, Valeriy Lysenko, of the export control service, a copy of the contract, which clearly states that the South's government Sudan as recipient. He then asks if the Ukrainian government maintains its position. Lysenko does not flinch. He maintains his position, expresses doubts about the veracity of the document and asks if he has other proof. No doubt feeling the mustard rising in his nose, Van Diepen then brought out the massive proof: satellite images showing the T 72 tanks unloaded in Kenya, transferred to trains, and finally in South Sudan. Little "trouble” on the Ukrainian side, as indicated in the telegram (concussion).

A Lesson in Real Politik

With this advantage, the American delivers a lesson in Real Politik: everyone is free to have “different export control policies, it is its sovereign right“. But “not telling the truth is something the United States cannot expect from a strategic partner” (you can hear the pin dropping in the room from here :-)). And to warn: “Ukraine has nothing to gain from lying and a lot to lose“. “Since South Sudan is on the US terrorism list, the US should consider whether to impose sanctions on the transfer.” And know “if the Ukrainian government is telling the truth“, would weigh heavily in the decision.

Thus lectured, the Ukrainian maintains his position – “Ukraine only had a relationship with Kenya, and not with South Sudan. (It) cannot be held responsible for the actions of a third country. This is “a common problem for the United States and Ukraine to resolve,” he adds. But he stresses that special agencies will investigate to “know what happened” and assures that the United States is “a reliable partner".

The moral of the story is not indicated by the telegram. But we can say it: fortunately (for once) the pirates were there!

(1) read telegram

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).