What is it that sees the Royal Thai Army buying a considerable amount of its kit from the Ukraine?
In earlier posts, PPT has discussed the purchase of armored personnel carriers from the Ukraine. Back then, we first posted about the lack of transparency on military spending that saw the account of the army “seeking approval to buy an additional 121 armoured personnel carriers from the Ukraine even though it has yet to receive any of the vehicles it ordered three years ago.” Apparently, according to a Bangkok Post story, “[then] army chief Anupong Paojinda has decided to spend his forces’ leftover funds for this year on 121 APCs from the Ukraine, which has yet to deliver the 96 vehicles ordered in 2007.” The story on the APCs became a long one. As might be expected, there were questions regarding cost and possible corruption and commissions and the billions shoveled to the military by the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime. Naturally, there were also problems with the APCs suggesting issues like those surrounding the Army’s infamous deflating, crashing, and senseless purchase of a zeppelin from a non-company in the U.S.
At the Bangkok Post there is a report that Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha says the Ukraine will deliver its first batch of T-84 Oplot battle tanks in May. The first post PPT had on this was back in May 2011, when the Abhisit government rushed to spend money and to buy more support from the military in a 18-hour marathon cabinet meeting that, amongst other spending, included “a budget of 7 billion baht for the army to buy 54 T-84 OPLOT 54A tanks from the Ukraine…”.
Tanks in Thailand are synonymous with the military coup. They are most often used in Thailand when the Army is thinking about or engaged in a coup.
One of the most significant moments in the development of opposition to the 2006 coup was when on 30 September 2006, Nuamthong Praiwan drove his taxi, spray painted with the words “[CDR is] destroying the country,” and “Sacrificing life”, into an M41 tank at the Royal Plaza. Nuamthong, who later committed suicide in another political statement against the coup, said: “I did it intentionally to protest the junta that has destroyed our country, and I painted all the words myself…”.
It seems that five tanks will arrive in May, with another 50 tanks due by the end of 2015. The army has ordered a grand total of 200 of these tanks. Like the zeppelin, it seems that the Thai military is the only buyer for this tank, at least at present. To us, that solitary fact should sound alarm bells that ring out with sounds like “corruption” and “commissions.”
Add that to the fact that Prayuth has “had requested a speedier delivery of the battle tanks.” Recall that the delivery of the APCs was repeatedly delayed while the Army ordered more even when not a single APC had been delivered and there were problems with the engines. Another tell-tale sign of “issues” is Prayuth’s need to affirm that “he had inspected an Oplot tank during a recent trip to Ukraine and believed the army was getting good value for money in terms of firepower and combat capabilities.” As the Post reports, the “procurement drew criticism from soldiers when the deal was announced in 2011.”
Some in the timid Yingluck Shinawatra government must be thinking that they may see the tanks clattering on Bangkok’s streets against an elected government some time in the future or whether they may be used to threaten Cambodia in a PAD-inspired, xenophobic border clash.