The Cable

Why Is Ukraine Showing Its Military Wares in the United States?

Ukraine is looking for lethal aid. Its defense industry is looking for partners.

Ukrainian military students in April 2016. Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian military students in April 2016. Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

In the market for a robotic ground vehicle made in Ukraine? How about an armored personnel carrier? You’re in luck. For the first time ever, UkrOboronProm, a government-run collection of enterprises from across the Ukrainian defense industry, is showing its products at the Association of the United States Army exposition this week in Washington, D.C..

Why, when Ukraine is asking the United States to provide lethal military equipment, is the company that provides weapons for its own forces touting its arms abroad?

“Considering our experience, we came here to show our expertise and potential—to show that we can be partners,” Roksolana Sheiko, director of communications policy for UkrOboronProm, told Foreign Policy in an interview at AUSA. “We are not politicians … we are ready to develop, to produce, and to supply.”

UkrOboronProm is in Washington to to look for Western partners, according to company representatives. Until 2014, over 50 percent of Ukraine’s military equipment was supplied by Russia. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 and then the war with Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have removed Russia from the picture. And so, in 2015, Ukraine began mass production of new weapons—and looked to replace Russia by working with, among others, U.S. partners.

Asked about markets outside of Ukraine, Sheiko noted that this was their third major expo in which the Phantom, an unmanned ground vehicle designed for “hybrid warfare,” has been displayed. In the United Arab Emirates last year, she said, the first iteration of the Phantom was hailed as one of the top two innovations by Defence Blog.

UkrOboronProm is happy to sell to any part of the world not under sanctions or other restrictions, Sheiko said. UkrOboronProm has signed a memorandum of understanding with Turkey, jointly manufactures armored vehicles with Thailand, and collaborates with Poland.

There’s one particular market that is of interest: UkrOboronProm sees potential in modernizing equipment used by former Soviet Pact countries, such as Poland. UkrOboronProm is offering to upgrade Soviet-era T-72 tanks with Ukrainian parts.

Asked whether they see a certain irony in replacing Russian parts with Ukrainian equipment, Sheiko insisted such competitive thinking is not a part of the calculus. Besides, they can say their tanks are combat-tested and “proven in actual war.”

Russia could perhaps say the same, but that might require admitting that it supplied T-72 tanks to separatists fighting in Ukraine.

Photo credit: Sergey Bobok/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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