The Kiev Connection
covering burma and southeast asia
Saturday, October 23, 2021
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ARTICLE

The Kiev Connection


By William Ashton APRIL, 2004 - VOLUME 12 NO.4


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In May 2003 the Malyshev HMB plant in Kharkov reportedly signed a contract with Rangoon to provide the Burma Army with 1,000 new BTR-3U light armored personnel carriers, or APCs. The APCs will be supplied in component form over the next 10 years, and assembled in Burma. The size of the deal is estimated to be in excess of US $500 million. It is not known if it will be paid in hard currency, or whether an element of barter trade is involved. Some of Burma’s other arms suppliers—for example Russia and North Korea—have accepted part payment in rice, teak and marine products. The BTR-3U was jointly developed by the Karkiv Morozov Machine-building Design Bureau, or KMVD, a Ukraine state company, and Adcom Manufacturing Co, an Abu Dhabi-based munitions maker. Although it resembles a Soviet BTR-80, KMVD claims that the BTR-3U represents “an all-new production vehicle rather than [an] upgrade of the existing in-service vehicle.” The APC features a German-built Deutz engine and an American-made General Motors Allison automatic transmission. The sale of the BTR-3U to Rangoon may breach US law, which explicitly bans the export of American-made military and dual-use products to Burma’s military. Before the 1980s, the Burma Army’s APC fleet consisted of obsolete Ferret, Humber and Daimler armored cars provided by the United Kingdom in the 1950s and 1960s. During the 1980s and early 1990s, the regime developed a range of locally designed armored vehicles, built by army engineers using Japanese components. Since the armed forces took back direct political power in 1988, they have purchased about 250 Type-85 and around 55 Type-90 tracked APCs from China. While designed mainly for counter-insurgency operations, wheeled APCs have been used to help intimidate protesters and counter civil unrest in Burma’s population centers. The BTR-3U order follows hard on the heels of a shipment of tanks, also from the Ukraine. According to expatriate sources, more than 50 T-72S main battle tanks arrived in Rangoon by ship in mid-2003. They were subsequently transported by road to the Bahtoo military cantonment. The story is corroborated by the fact that in September 2002, the Ukrainian state arms dealer UkrSpetsExport advertised in the Kiev press for Ukrainian-to-English translators to work on a “Myanmar-Ukrainian tank Project” that involved “combat usage, operation and maintenance of tank T-72S.” The Ukrainian T-72s join a large number of relatively modern tanks now in Burma’s order of battle. Before 1988, the only tanks in the army’s inventory were about 20 obsolete Comet medium tanks, provided by the UK in 1954. Since then, the regime has reportedly purchased hundreds of Type-85, Type-80, Type-69 and Type-59 main battle tanks from China. It has also acquired about 105 Type-63 light amphibious tanks, also from China. In a related development, on February 26 this year a Ukrainian-flagged freighter arrived at Rangoon port carrying military equipment. Strict security measures were implemented to hide the nature of the cargo. The unloading of the ship was reportedly supervised by Deputy Minister of Defense Maj-Gen Aung Hlaing, and Col Aye Myint, the army’s Director of Air Defense. The presence of these two officers at the docks prompted speculation that the cargo consisted of anti-aircraft weapons manufactured in the Ukraine. In addition, there was a story in the local press in late 2002 that the Ukraine had contracted to provide Burma with some 36D6 radar systems. The terms of the contract and the number of items to be supplied have not yet been revealed. The Ukraine established diplomatic relations with Burma in January 1999. It has no embassy there, but UkrSpetsExport maintains an expatriate-staffed representative office on the ninth floor of the Royal Nikko Hotel in Rangoon. The weapons sales seen over the past year are the result of a concerted export drive by the Ukraine, but they are also made possible by Rangoon’s continuing military expansion and modernization program, begun in 1989. Given the close relationship established between Rangoon and Kiev, further arms sales seem likely. William Ashton writes regularly about security issues in Asia.

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