Czech Republic to Donate 44 ‘Fourth Hand’ BMP-1 Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine: Useful or a 1960s Relic?

Amid ongoing hostilities between Russia and Ukraine, over six weeks after they began on February 24, the Czech Republic has joined a number of Western countries in announcing planned donations of Soviet era equipment to the Ukrainian Military. While peace talks between Moscow and Kiev made unprecedented progress in the final week of March, the Ukrainian government has continued to appeal for military aid with systems considered for delivery ranging from MiG-29 fighters from Poland to 9K33 OSA air defence systems from the United States and a very wide range of handheld anti tank and anti aircraft weapons. The Czech donation comes in the form of 56 Pbv-501 infantry fighting vehicles - a variant of the Soviet BMP-1s which were built for East German service but purchased for Czech use. Approval to transfer the systems to Ukraine was formerly denied by Berlin, but was subsequently reported as approved on April 1. Should the transfer go ahead, Ukraine will be the fourth country to operate the vehicles which were sold to Sweden by Germany before being sold on to the Czech Republic. 

Pbv-501 vehicles have been out of frontline service for some years, and are expected to require significant refurbishment before they are ready for engagements. The delivery is not expected to have anything more than a symbolic effect, with the Ukrainian Army fielding the largest tank force in Europe and a very large arsenal of fighting vehicles already too large to be employed effectively - with massive caches of similarly old 1980s equipment in storage. The BMP-1 on which the Pbv-501 is based first entered service in the Soviet Army in 1966, with over 40,000 built into the 1980s and with well over 50 countries currently deploying them. Ukraine is itself one of the largest operators of the type with several thousand having been inherited from the Soviet Union, which raises questions regarding how useful 44 more are likely to be. Czechoslovakia formerly fielded over 2000 of the vehicles before its partitioning, although the Czech Republic currently operates only a few dozen of the vehicles with its armoured units in general having shrunk drastically to a small fraction of their former size.

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