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?