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22 Dec, 2023 09:06

‘Russia stopped us from buying fighter jets’ – Ukrainian arms firm

The CEO of Ukrainian Armored Technology has complained of foreign interference by Moscow
‘Russia stopped us from buying fighter jets’ – Ukrainian arms firm

The CEO of a controversial private firm that helps Ukraine procure weapons in foreign markets, has lamented that Russia was able to derail its bid to buy fighter jets.

The company, Ukrainian Armored Technology, was identified by The New York Times in August as the biggest private supplier of arms to Ukraine, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars through what the US media outlet alleged are shady price-gouging schemes.

Vladislav Belbas discussed the firm’s operation and ties with the Ukrainian publication Ekonomicheskaya Pravda in an interview on Thursday.

The proposed jet deal involved a nation “on the other side of the planet,” Belbas told the outlet, but Russia somehow intercepted one of the messages detailing it.

“Soon, a representative of the Russian embassy in that nation started going around with that letter, threatening local officials that Russia would cut some projects in that nation,” the arms trader recalled.

The sale was aborted by the seller, he said, offering no further details about the incident.

Kiev has blamed lack of air superiority for its poor progress on the battlefield against Russia and has long urged foreign sponsors to provide Western-made fighter jets. This year, the US and some of its allies agreed to start training Ukrainian pilots to operate F-16s, with the schedule for the jets eventually being donated remaining unclear.

The Russian Foreign Ministry warned this month that if NATO nations allow Ukraine to fly missions from their soil, Moscow would consider it direct involvement in hostilities and act accordingly.

On paper Belbas is ostensibly one of three owners of Ukrainian Armored Technology, but according to the New York Times exposé, the ultimate beneficiary is former MP Sergey Pashynsky.

Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky publicly called the man a “100% bandit” in 2019. However, his government turned to the “bandit” when it needed arms last year, disregarding other considerations, such as overpricing, the US newspaper said.

“Much of the money that fuels this system comes from European aid,” the report said, citing an inside source. “But European and American officials are loath to discuss Mr. Pashynsky, for fear of playing into Russia’s narrative that Ukraine’s government is hopelessly corrupt.”

In 2022, the firm reported sales totaling $350 million, up from $2.8 million the year before hostilities with Russia started, NYT reported.

Three different branches of the Ukrainian government confirmed to the newspaper that when it “wants to buy from Ukrainian Armored Technology, it negotiates with Mr. Pashynsky.”

In his interview, Belbas denied any business links with the former MP, who was involved with the defense industry while serving as a lawmaker and later chaired a supervisory council of Ukroboronprom, Ukraine’s state-owned arms conglomerate.

Belbas himself used to head a Ukroboronprom subsidiary dealing with arms exports. In 2019, amid a wider crackdown on corruption in the defense industry, the country’s anti-corruption bureau accused him and his associates of embezzling some $2.2 million in state money. Court proceedings on the case “have been walking in circles” ever since, Ekonomicheskaya Pravda noted.

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