Tag Archives: Hungarian Ministry of Defence

Hungarian T-72 Tanks are heading to Ukraine among others as NATO Is Arming Ukraine

As Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko talk about the Ukraine situation, suspicious “little green men” spontaneously appear once more, and the Ukrainian army continues a long, bloody advance into the rebel-held east, NATO may be fixing to get almost as aggressively ambiguous as Russia already is.

A few events before the upcoming NATO Summit in Cardiff on September 4 all suggest that the West has finally decided that it would like to do a great deal (or more than absolutely nothing) but just doesn’t want to be too tacky about it.

The first is a puzzling sale of 58 T-72 tanks to the Czech Republic by Hungary. Since the signing of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty in 1990, the purchase, transfer, and stationing of European arms and troops has been tightly regulated.

Russian soldiers unload T-72 tanks from a train near the Crimean capital Simferopol, on March 31, 2014

So a sale between two signatories (such as the Czech Republic and Hungary) is closely monitored. And something caught the eye of defense industry observers in this transaction. While the Czechs were buying the vehicles, it didn’t appear that they would actually be using them.

It’s not yet possible to tell where these tanks will be going, but the current speculation is that they’re destined for the Ukrainian army.


This makes sense, because Ukraine is desperate for new equipment that is completely compatible with the Soviet-style stuff already in their inventory; the army doesn’t want to screw around with new training or parts in the middle of a war.

The closer you have to live to Russia, the more adamant you are about having a lot of armed backup.

But Hungary borders Ukraine directly, so why not just drive them into Ukraine? Well, the Hungarian entity selling the tanks is their Ministry of Defense. The Czech buyer, however, is a private company.

So as long as the Czechs keep in compliance with relevant treaty obligations and the like, the sale is legal, and the Hungarian government can be completely honest when they say they’re not providing arms to the Ukrainian military.

Secondly, the Croatian Ministry of Defense has announced that this is the perfect time to upgrade its helicopters to something more in keeping with the country’s position as a member of a US-led alliance. They’re getting rid of 14 old Mil Mi-8 transport choppers and will replace them with 20 new UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the US.

What about the old, non-NATO helicopters? Well, as it turns out, there’s a country to Croatia’s east — that starts with “U-K-R” and rhymes with “insane” — on the lookout for ready-to-use Soviet-compatible equipment.

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Finally, NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen recently told the Guardian that the alliance may put some sort of bases in Eastern European nations that share a border with Russia. There’s some division on this within NATO.

Some longtime NATO members, like Spain and Italy, are opposed to new bases, but folks in the East are clamoring for a stronger, permanent NATO presence, and Germany is sitting on the fence.

It appears that the closer you have to live to Russia, the more adamant you are about having a lot of armed backup.

To split the difference (and to limit how big a deal Russia can make out of this) NATO won’t be setting up large permanent bases. Rather, the idea is that there are facilities, with some troops stationed there for as “long as necessary” and other NATO forces rotated through.

The idea of higher rotation is that it acquaints all the other militaries with the environment and gives them practice deploying to the base without being stationed there permanently.

NATO says satellite images show Russian units moving in a convoy formation with self-propelled artillery in the area of Krasnodon, Ukraine

Hopefully, this means that in the event of a real crisis, all of NATO would know how to find their way to the east, would be familiar with all the local rental car places, hotels, and restaurants, and could just hop on over and go fight the heck out of a war with Russia in a jiffy.

But even if NATO wanted a more visible and formidable presence in the East, it may simply not have enough strength to do it convincingly. As Rasmussen told the Guardian:

“Since the end of the cold war we have lived in relatively good weather. Now we are faced with a profound climate change. That requires more investment. Politicians have tried to harvest the peace dividend after the end of the cold war. That’s understandable. But now we are in a completely new security situation.”

Whether or not having the ability to conjure a large military deterrent is the same as actually having the deterrent in place is an interesting question. How much of deterring an opponent is just the basic psychological fact of having a big ole military force on the ground, versus having a big ole military force on speed dial?

It might not pack quite as much punch; consider the difference between seeing a cop right in front of you versus knowing they’re a phone call away. How will Russia, NATO, and Eastern Europe view a 24-hour armed guard differently than an armed first responder? It’s hard to tell, but Ukrainians might have some thoughts on the matter.


Hungary Sells T-72 Tanks to…?

The Hungarian Ministry of Defence has announced that they’ve sold 58 T-72 tanks to a Czech company, Excalibur Defense Ltd., who has begun transporting them into the Czech Republic.

Under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE Treaty), the Czech firm will face resale limitations, and they must also comply with certain Hungarian laws.

The sale is a bit of a mystery, but some local reports suggest a possible explanation…

Hungary has about 30+ T-72M1 tanks in service, and the 58 tanks are likely to be drawn from their reserves of 120 or so T-72M vehicles. This is hardly unprecedented; in 2005, they sold 77 of their T-72s to Iraq. With respect to this sale, the Ministry of Defence adds:

“The customer is allowed to resell the tanks only in compliance with the relevant provisions of the CFE Treaty.The CFE Treaty sets a ceiling on the number of tanks that can be held by any one country and includes further provisions for reduction, withdrawal from service, storage, information exchange and verification.Hungary has acted responsibly as it has sold the disused tanks with the provision that they cannot be sold to a country against which embargo is enforced. After the transportation to the Czech Republic, in accordance with the CFE Treaty, the Czech authorities are under obligation and in charge of authorizing and monitoring the handling, use and resale of military equipment.”

That’s a long disclaimer. Abridged version: “Don’t blame us.”

The buyer is unlikely to be The Czech Republic. Their army has about 30 T-72M4-CZ tanks in front line service, which were modernized locally. They also have about 90 T-72M1 tanks in reserve, so they don’t need Hungarian T-72Ms.

The right-wing Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita believes that the tanks are destined for the Ukraine, which has been looking for compatible second-hand Soviet-era equipment that they can use right away.

The paper based its claim in part on the direction of shipment within Hungary, toward the Ukrainian border. In contrast, Hungary was careful to mention that the tanks are being shipped the opposite way, into the Czech Republic, which removes any common border with Ukraine.

On the other hand, Hungary’s Fidesz Party seems to have come down on Ukraine’s side after their internal debates, despite having a foreign policy that is friendlier than usual toward Russia.

If the treaties can all be observed, could a private sector entity transport the tanks in a less obtrusive way from the Czech Republic through Poland, to the Ukraine?