ABU DHABI — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced a deal for unspecified military and technical cooperation with the UAE on Tuesday, and said negotiations are ongoing with the United States and unspecified European nations.
The deal is a sign that Ukraine is not only seeking, but finding defense industry partners outside the region as it wages an uphill fight against Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Poroshenko told reporters at the IDEX show here that he hoped talks with the US would yield an agreement to help Ukraine defend itself. Poroshenko had reportedly planned to meet with chief Pentagon weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, at the show.
"We are in a very practical dialogue, and we hope in the very near future, we have a decision to help us attain defensive weapons," he said of talks with the US. "I want to stress that the defensive capabilities for the Ukrainian Army are only to defend our territory, to keep our independence, to keep our sovereignty. We do not have any plans to attack anybody."
Ukraine Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak has said the country will dedicate $3 billion to fund the fight against pro-Russian rebels, including $110 million for buying weapons abroad.
At the show, Poroshenko was said to have met for an hour with the UAE's crown prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and walked the show floor, which was lined with armored vehicles, missiles and automatic weapons from all over the world.
Observers said Poroshenko stopped at the booths for Textron and Airbus, among others. The president also passed the large Russian pavilion.
The Ukrainian and Emirati leaders held what Poroshenko described as a "very important negotiation about the facilitation of the United Arab Emirates investment in the Ukraine." He declined to provide specifics of the deal, besides a promised diplomatic visit and that the two "signed a very important memorandum about military and technical cooperation."
Poroshenko called himself "a president of peace" and the Ukraine "a country of peace," speaking with reporters outside the booth for Ukroboronprom, a state-owned conglomerate of the Ukraine's defense companies.
Flanked by a uniformed military official, Poroshenko walked a display dominated by Ukraine's large four-wheeled armored car, the Dozor B, and had an emotional visit with an executive from the state concern.
"To keep the peace, we should have the ability to defend ourself," he said. "Today, here united, we do a great job, to increase the defense capability of Ukraine."
Ukrainian companies signed several contracts worth tens of millions of dollars, funding the acceleration of its military's modernization, Poroshenko later said in a news release.
During the president's visit, the Ukrainian company Motor Sich JSC and the Paramount Group, a South African company, signed a collaborative deal to further develop the Superhind Mi-24 military helicopter.
According to Paramount Group Chairman Ivor Ichikowitz, the two companies would exchange technologies, the Ukrainian company's engines and sophisticated mission systems, and the South African company's composite rotor blades.
The deal comes as the Ukraine undertakes a strenuous effort to broaden its military production capacity and find new suppliers for parts previously obtained from Russia, particularly in its aviation industry. Spearheading the effort is Ukroboronprom, created in 2010 to coordinate research, development and design efforts of more than 100 companies across five industries.
"Sometimes when you have this kind of enemy on your border, the people get their act together and start moving very quickly," Nadiia Stechyshyna, the investments adviser to Ukroboronprom's CEO, told Defense News before Poroshenko's visit.
The stakes could not be higher. On Monday, a peace deal between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukraine seemed to be falling apart as rebel shelling reportedly continued.
The country, after the conflict began, struggled to equip its neglected military to a basic level; upgrade artillery, weaponry and battle tanks; and implement maintenance programs.
"Nobody actually paid any attention to the way the Army was equipped for the last 23 years," Stechyshyna said. "Everybody was feeling safe and secure, so there was basically zero investment in the armed forces. So sometimes what we are doing right now is getting back to the basics."
At IDEX, Ukroboronprom sought to market its own defense products, including the upgraded Oplot Main Battle Tank, which it is fielding to its forces this year or next as it divests from the Soviet-era T-64 and T-72. It was also also seeking foreign partners, like the Paramount Group, with ready technology and production facilities for access to new markets.
Roughly 70 percent of armored car parts that Ukraine imported from Russia have been replaced," Stechyshyna said, "a very tough job, and the very heavy lifting has been done in the last few months."
Ukroboronprom's presence at the show was also symbolic.
"Not being here might have been interpreted that we are scared," Stechyshyna said. "We have to show that we have the production. We have to show that we have the products that can defend ourself from threats."