Presidency $1bn Arms Loan Exposed: Belarus Not Helicopter Manufacturing Country

The revelation by the Senate on Thursday that the federal government plans to buy 12 helicopters from the Republic of Belarus to aid the fight against insurgency has raised questions about the genuineness and legality of the move, as facts emerged that Belarus is not a helicopter manufacturing company.

This is even as the country is not listed as a helicopter or aircraft manufacturer on the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) list of manufacturers of aircraft in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. The list was last edited three months ago.

President Goodluck Jonathan had on July 15, written to the Senate, requesting its approval to take a loan of $1billion to enable the federal government tackle security challenges in the country.

The Senate Joint Committee on Finance and Local and Foreign Debts, which scrutinised the proposal, had urged the Senate to accede to the president’s request…

During plenary on Thursday, chairman of the joint committee, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, who presented the committee’s report, said, “Helicopters are crucial for decisive victory over the war against terror. Quick victory cannot be accomplished without helicopters, because of the terrain and the nature of operations to be undertaken. Belarus has accepted to give helicopters on instalmental payment over a seven year period.”

The Senate president, David Mark, had advised his colleagues to go ahead and and approve the proposal without raising questions that would have any security implications.

However, investigations by LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday confirmed that the country does not manufacture helicopters, which makes the decision of the government to buy helicopters from the country suspicious.

Political affairs officer of the Belarus Embassy in Abuja, Mr. Sergei Makarevich, who confirmed this in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend yesterday, said though Belarus is a top manufacturer of military equipment, helicopters were not part of it.

“Belarus is a serious manufacturer of military equipment. We are one of the top five countries in the world that manufacture special equipment… and we always make sure that everything that we produce is exported for peaceful purposes. We deal directly with governments of countries, not with individuals or agents. As for the range of equipment, we produce a lot, but unfortunately, we don’t produce helicopters. We don’t. There are some things that we produce fully in Belarus including military armour machines, vehicles, tanks, missiles, systems. But we also perform such a function as modernisation of old but still effective machines and equipment, including helicopters. Very often, manufacturers produce those that cannot perform at the same level of modernisation that we can do, so we upgrade and input the high-tech equipment inside.

“As for the contract you mentioned, unfortunately, I won’t be able to confirm or say it didn’t happen,” he said, but however disclosed that officials of the government of Belarus had met with Nigerian government officials, including the national security adviser, mid-September 2014 and issues including special military cooperation and equipment were discussed.

Asked if the country buys helicopters and modernises them to sell or only modernises for manufacturers, after which they go back to the manufacturing country he said, “It depends on the contract. It can be both, depending on the eagerness of the end user,” emphasising that because the country is relatively small with a population of about nine million, most of the military equipment it produces is exported to countries that need it, dealing directly with the governments of those countries.

Makarevich said that for Nigeria particularly, the purpose of Belarus’ willingness to cooperate with the country was first to help to resolve the unfortunate problem of insurgency and secondly, its role in international peacekeeping, particularly in Africa. He said his country understands that Nigeria requires cooperation to support the fragile balance on the continent and that Belarus treats Nigeria as one of its serious partners.

Further findings by LEADERSHIP Weekend confirmed that in a news report published on the official website of the Republic of Belarus, posted on April 2 2014, the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, had expressed worry that the country was continuously focused on aircraft upgrade and repairs and expressed plans by the country to start manufacturing airplanes and helicopters. He stated this when he visited OAO 558 Aircraft Repair Plant in Baranovichi on April 2.

According to the president, it made no sense to focus solely on aircraft upgrade and repairs, saying that Belarus needed to move on and begin to produce new aircraft that would sell well on the market. “Belarus should produce airplanes and helicopters,” Lukashenko said.

But reacting to the president’s comments in an interview with the Belarus Times of Thursday April 3, 2014, Andrei Parotnikov, a military expert and head of the analytical project, Belarus Security Blog said, that with the kind of technology Belarus has, it would only be able to produce hang gliders.

Responding to a question on the technological ability of Belarus to manufacture helicopters, he said, “This depends on what kind of technique we are talking about. We must understand that the level of complexity of aircraft can be different. Therefore we can of course produce, say, hang gliders, but we don’t have special engineering skills to produce something more complex. Belarus can simply offer a platform for the assembly of such complex products and, consequently, some tax breaks, so that it is attractive for those producers who have special technologies, engineering skills, achievements and most importantly — sales channels.”

When LEADERSHIP Weekend sought the reaction of the Senate to these findings, spokesman of the Senate, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia, PDP), in a text message said, “The matter of $1bn loan has already been dealt with by the Senate vide its approval yesterday during the debate on the request by the C in C.”

Meanwhile, also reacting to the development, a source familiar with the subject confirmed too that Belarus does not manufacture aircraft, but merely repairs/refits existing units.

He explained that the proposed helicopters, Mil Mi-24D (export designation Mil Mi-35), cost US$35-40million per unit, adding, however, that, “It’s better than any of its competitors defensively, because it has heavy duty armour (including blades and cockpit), resistant up to 50 rounds, so even if fired on the M2 browning at the cockpit, it won’t do any damage. Offensively, it can be configured for a variety of roles; air combat, anti-infantry, even if mechanised/motorised combat or even air support. It’s also extremely fast take-off wise and has a range of 450km. In other words, it can take off from Yola, fly to Maiduguri and back in an hour.”