Belarus: Arms dealer to the world's pariahs?

Posted By Joshua Keating

On Monday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accused Belarus of violating an international arms embargo by shipping helicopters to the Ivory Coast for use by forces loyal to incumbent but internationally rejected President Laurent Gbagbo. As Colum Lynch has reported, it has since become clear that there's not much firm proof behind the allegation and Ban may have jumped the gun by making a public announcement.

Yesterday brought a new allegation, this one from the EU-affiliated watchdog SIPRI, that Belarus shipped weapons to Libya shortly before a U.N. arms embargo went into effect:

An Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft left a military base near the Belarussian city of Baranovichi and landed at the Libyan desert airport of Sebha on 15 February, reported the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), an independent organisation which monitors arms trafficking for the EU.

It also says that a Libyan executive jet, a Falcon 900, flew to Belarus last week, possibly taking gold and diamonds.

"The Ilyushin came from a dedicated military base that only handles stockpiled weaponry and military equipment," Sipri's arms trafficking expert Hugh Griffiths said.[...]

The Libyan government has a substantial number of Ilyushin Il-76s. Khamis Gadaffi, one of the Libyan leader's sons and commander of one of the country's special forces brigades, attended a large military exercise in Belarus two years ago.

If the reports are true, this is an interesting example of what could be called the Bad Guy Economy. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, along with 160 of his top officials, has already been placed under an EU visa ban and asset freeze owing to last December's disputed election and the brutal crackdown on opposition activists that followed. The U.S. has imposed new sanctions as well. At this point there's really not all that much more the international community can do to punish Lukashnko. This gives him an advantage over leaders who still have an international reputation to uphold in selling to countries like Ivory Coast and Libya. North Korea plays this game as well.

Incidentally, I got the chance to speak this morning with Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski at the Polish embassy in Washington, and asked what he would like to see from Lukashenko before normal relations could be restored:

Release all prisoners and drop all charges. Allow the OSCE to function, require changes to the electoral law, changes to the media law, take course toward democratization, and then dialogue with the EU could resume.

Sikorski also gave his read on the more turbulent than usual Minsk-Moscow relationship:

Last year, important Russian politicians including President Medvedev and Foreign Minsiter Lavrov were signalling that they are sick and tired of Lukashenko. Medvedev criticized him on his personal blog. Lavrov talked about monitoring activitely and accepting the result of a democratic vote. But we know that when Lukashenko stole the election, Russia pronounced it an internal affair. So there was a change of view.

Other Josh will be posting more from our conversation, including Sikorski's views on the possibility of NATO military intervention in Libya, over at The Cable.


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