Ethiopia Table of Contents
In 1976, after receiving Moscow's assurance of military assistance, Lieutenant Colonel Atnafu Abate, vice chairman of the Derg, announced that Ethiopia would restrict its future purchases to "socialist countries." By the time Somali forces captured Jijiga in September 1977, Moscow already had decided to supply military assistance to the Mengistu regime.
Within three months of this decision, the Soviet Union had initiated a massive arms transfer program. Approximately fifty Soviet ships had passed through the Suez Canal on the way to the port of Aseb to unload crated fighter aircraft, tanks, artillery, and munitions--an estimated 60,000 tons of hardware--for delivery to the Ogaden front. Moscow shipped additional equipment from the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen). At the height of the buildup, between November 1977 and February 1978, Soviet transport aircraft, including giant An-22s, landed at twenty-five- minute intervals at Ethiopian airports. An estimated 225 transports--about 15 percent of the Soviet air fleet-- participated in the operation.
The 1977-78 Soviet supply operation impressed Western observers, who admitted that the display of Soviet transport capability had added a "new strategic element" to the EastWest balance. The Soviet Union drew on large stockpiles of equipment created by high production levels. Soviet aid-- which included eighty aircraft, 600 tanks, and 300 APCs--had an estimated value of US$1 billion, surpassing in a matter of months the total value of United States aid provided to Ethiopia between 1953 and 1977. One-fourth of the Soviet assistance was a gift; reportedly, the Libyan government financed a small portion.
In November 1978, a few months after the end of the Ogaden War, Addis Ababa and Moscow signed a twenty-year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Among other things, the treaty called for close military cooperation. With the promise of future arms deliveries, the Mengistu regime continued to pursue military victory against Eritrean and Tigrayan separatists in northern Ethiopia. In July 1979, for example, the Soviet Union underwrote Ethiopia's fifth offensive against Eritrea by shipping military hardware to Ethiopian army garrisons at Mersa Teklay and Asmera. Moreover, Soviet officers reportedly commanded Ethiopian field units. However, like the four earlier ones between 1974 and 1978, this offensive failed to bring rebel areas under government control.
By mid-1980 Ethiopia's military and economic debt to the Soviet Union had grown dramatically. The total value to be repaid was US$1.7 billion, to be spread over ten years beginning in 1984, with 2 percent interest to be paid concurrently on the principal. In addition, Ethiopia agreed to repay a US$300 million commercial debt to the Soviet Union for items such as trucks and cranes. Addis Ababa met these obligations by sending coffee to the Soviet Union and by making foreign-exchange payments from export earnings elsewhere.
Throughout the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union's military commitment to Ethiopia continued to grow, despite Moscow's purported encouragement of a political settlement of the Eritrean problem. In 1982, for example, Moscow provided about US$2 billion worth of weapons to support Ethiopia's various Red Star campaigns in Eritrea. The Red Star campaigns were planned jointly by Soviet military advisers and their Ethiopian counterparts. Although the 1982 campaign failed to produce a military victory in Eritrea, the Soviet Union remained committed to the Mengistu regime. By 1984 Moscow had provided more than US$4 billion in military assistance to Ethiopia, with arms deliveries in 1984 (worth approximately US$1.2 billion) at their highest level since the Ogaden War. The number of Soviet and East European military advisers in Ethiopia also grew from about 1,900 in 1981 to approximately 2,600 in 1984. Additionally, by 1984 more than 1,600 Ethiopian military personnel had received training in the Soviet Union.
After Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March 1985, Soviet policy toward Ethiopia underwent a fundamental change. The value of arms deliveries from the Soviet Union and its East European allies declined to US$774 million in 1985 and to US$292 million in 1986. The number of Soviet military advisers in Ethiopia also declined, to about 1,400 in 1988, although it returned to normal levels of approximately 1,700 in 1989.
More important, Gorbachev told Mengistu during a July 26, 1988, meeting in Moscow that the Soviet Union was unwilling to increase military assistance to Ethiopia. Instead, the Soviet leader encouraged a "just solution" to the disputes in northern Ethiopia. In subsequent meetings between Soviet and Ethiopian officials, Moscow refused Addis Ababa's request to reschedule its debt and declined to indicate whether it would conclude another arms agreement after the one in force in 1989 expired in 1991.
As further evidence of the Soviet Union's interest in a negotiated settlement of the Eritrean issue, in early July 1989 Yuri Yukalov, director of the African department at the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met with Issaias Afwerki, secretary general of the EPLF, to discuss Ethiopia's future. Additionally, the Soviet Union expressed support for the peace talks taking place in 1989 between the Ethiopian government and the EPLF and TPLF.
Throughout 1990 Moscow continued to reduce its military commitment to Addis Ababa. In March 1990, for example, the Soviet Union announced the withdrawal of its military advisers from all combat zones. Despite Ethiopia's growing need for helicopters and other counterinsurgency equipment, Moscow refused to conclude any new weapons contracts with the Mengistu regime. It should be pointed out, however, that the Soviet Union honored all commitments set forth in the military assistance agreement, which was to expire at the beginning of 1991.
Data as of 1991
Ethiopia Table of Contents