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Up In Arms

A few weeks ago we ventured into the murky waters of Belarusian involvement in the illegal arms trade. Since then the United Nations Organization found itself compelled to make a hyper-embarrassing climb-down, admitting that it had falsely accused Minsk of sending helicopters to the Ivory Coast dictator Laurent Gbagbo.

Outpost isn’t convinced, though, that this really represents redemption for Belarus dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Now Belarus is cropping up with conspicuous frequency in the context of continued arms deliveries to Muammar Qaddafi’s embattled regime. Jamestown Foundation’ s Derek Henry Flood, on the ground with the Libyan rebels, cites a source there who claims that Belarus has been re-supplying Qaddafi with weapons and munitions.

Earlier this month the highly reputable Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) announced that Belarusian planes had been seen flying out of the huge Soviet-era base at Baranovichi, one of those huge military storage depots we wrote about earlier. Their destination: Libya. SIPRI also confirmed rumors that one of Qaddafi’s private planes made a recent flight to Minsk and back. (And what about that bizarro rumor that Qaddafi’s ex-nurse returned home to Ukraine with $50 million in cash to buy weapons for her man? Okay, now that’s a bit much even for us.)

One thing’s for sure: Qaddafi still has far more planes, tanks and heavy artillery than the rebels do. The last thing they need is for him to build out his “hardware advantage” (Flood) even more.

Libya is now subject to arms embargos by both the UN and the European Union. But Belarus – and the Russian companies for which it may be covering – has never shown a great deal of concern for such constraints. Outpost wonders if this is one of the factors spurring U.S. and European deliberations about a possible naval blockade that would allow humanitarian supplies to enter Libya even while keeping illegal arms shipments out. That might help to level the playing field for the opposition. And it’s certainly a lot less risky than setting up a no-fly zone.

- Christian Caryl