A state of emergency in Ecuador may seem like it would have little to do with Ukraine. However, a short announcement about the replacement of the country’s outdated Russian military equipment could have implications for Kyiv.

On Jan. 10, President Daniel Noboa announced that he was planning to swap Ukrainian and Russian “scrap metal” for advanced American military equipment costing $200 million. The deal, due to be formalized by the end of this month, was announced with little fanfare or corresponding detail.

Ecuador is currently embroiled in what its government describes as an “internal armed conflict” that began after the feared leader of the Los Choneros narco-gang, José Adolfo Macas Villamar, escaped from prison. President Noboa, just three months into his office and elected after another candidate was assassinated, subsequently declared a state of emergency and that all narco-gangs in the country were being targeted.

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In response, narco-gangs launched a campaign of terror, infamously hijacking a TV station during a live broadcast and overrunning several prisons in the country, taking hostages in the process. The Ecuadorian army was then mobilized, a curfew was declared, and other restrictions on public life were imposed.

Russian equipment for Ukraine’s military

The narco-gangs are well-armed and ruthless, setting off car bombs and murdering law enforcement officials while emphasizing that all civilians are targets. President Noboa’s decision to replace what he described as “Russian and Ukrainian scrap” underlines the country’s need for better equipment in the face of a criminal counterinsurgency.

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The decision was made by Russian-installed local deputies, supposedly following an appeal from dissatisfied Luhansk residents.

The decision comes at a time when several Latin American countries have been approached by the United States with an offer. In exchange for their Russian military equipment, which would be transferred to Ukraine, they would receive new American alternatives and upgrades.

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Most countries in the region use at least some Russian military equipment, most notably Venezuela. The country has a large military, with 21 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and around 90 T-72 tanks.

Helicopters are the most popular Russian military export on the continent. The continent’s other military powers, Colombia, Argentina, and Brazil, all utilize Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters.

The initiative did not meet with a receptive audience. Many countries in the region emphasized that they were sympathetic to Ukraine – excluding Russia’s allies in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – but most responded that they had no wish to be involved in arms transfers, instead calling for peace.

Could helicopters be coming to Ukraine?

While there is currently no public indication that this is what the US plans for Ecuador’s former Russian equipment, the timing is interesting as Ukraine looks for badly needed military supplies. According to a colonel in the Ecuadorian army who asked to be referred to by his call sign, Terminator, the military will be glad to get rid of its Russian equipment.

“The Russian military equipment possessed by the Ecuadorian army is old and outdated, consisting of KAMAZ trucks, some Mi-8/Mi-17 type helicopters, and other obsolete types of equipment. As for Ukrainian equipment, I am not aware of Ecuador having any of it,” Terminator said.

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“In my 28 years of service as an officer, I didn’t hear a lot about the Russian army and never met a representative of the country.”

As the Ecuadorian government’s campaign against the narco-gangs continues, we may learn more about exactly what kind of equipment it’s going to trade with the United States. According to Terminator, Washington is most likely to send light arms, bulletproof vests, night vision scopes, and other personal protection equipment.

If Ecuador does transfer its Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters to the United States, Kyiv could apply diplomatic pressure to receive them. If that happens other Latin American countries, particularly Argentina and its recently elected, pro-Ukraine President Javier Milei, may do the same.

Ukraine does not have a diplomatic mission in Ecuador and is instead represented by its embassy in Lima, Peru. While the embassy’s staff did not respond when contacted via email, Ukrainian citizens have been advised to refrain from visiting Ecuador until the security situation stabilizes.

Those Ukrainian citizens currently in Ecuador are advised to avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations, strictly observe security measures, comply with law enforcement agencies’ legal requirements, and monitor local authorities’ notifications. They should only leave their place of residence if necessary and should carry their identity documents at all times.

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