Leaked U.S. intelligence documents indicate that Ecuador’s right-wing government in recent months considered sending Soviet-designed MI-17 helicopters to Ukraine, a move supported by the United States.
Ecuador would have been the first Latin American country to send weapons to Kyiv, according to the documents. It was not clear from the leaked documents whether Ecuador followed through.
Ecuador’s Foreign Ministry denied any negotiations with Ukraine on Thursday, saying in a statement that a “donation of military goods and supplies is not mentioned in the Ecuadorean legislation, so an operation of these characteristics would be impossible.”
The political and economic relationship between Ecuador and Russia grew close under the presidency of Rafael Correa, according to Juan Carlos Herrera, an international law professor in Quito with a focus on Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Correa, a leftist, served from 2007 to 2017.
In 2021, Ecuador’s exports to Russia totaled nearly $1 billion — its fifth biggest destination after the United States, China, Panama and Chile.
But Mr. Herrera said that Ecuador’s relationship with Russia had been strained since the war in Ukraine began, in February 2022. The country’s president, Guillermo Lasso, condemned Russia’s invasion immediately and expressed his full support to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a phone call last June.
In a leaked analysis labeled “top secret” and dated February of this year, U.S. intelligence officials wrote that the Russian military recommended suspending economic ties with Ecuador if the helicopter transfer occurred.
The analysis offers a window into the geopolitical balance many countries are trying to strike as the war drags on.
At least three of Latin America’s largest countries — Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, all led by leftists — have refused to send weapons to Ukraine, with leaders arguing that they will not take sides in the war.
Vladimir Rouvinski, a political scientist at Icesi University in Colombia who studies Russian relations with Latin America, said Latin American countries were trying to stay out of the conflict “because they are afraid.”
“They are not sure how this war is going to end, how the new rules of the game are going to be,” he said. “They are worried about the change in the international order.”
According to the leaked U.S. intelligence assessment, Ecuador was hoping to send its aging MI-17 helicopters to Ukraine and persuade the United States to provide alternative aircraft. Ecuadorean officials had asked for U.S. support for providing the Soviet-era helicopters to Kyiv.
The potential transfer was first reported by Ecuadorean news media in January.
It remains unclear if American officials made a firm promise to replace the Ecuadorean aircraft should they be sent to Kyiv, or even if the arrangement moved forward.
But Laura Richardson, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said at an Atlantic Council discussion in January that the government was working with Latin American countries to donate Russian equipment to Ukraine and replace it with U.S. equipment. She added that they were “taking advantage” of Russia’s inability to provide the countries with new military equipment.
Ecuadorean officials knew that sending their old weapons to Kyiv could anger their trading partner Moscow, the leaked analysis said.
The analysis goes on to say that the Ecuadoreans were still likely to donate the helicopters to Ukraine — but added that they could also change their minds.
“Without prompt U.S. logistic support,” the analysis says, “Ecuador may reconsider its planned donation in the face of Russian economic pressure and domestic political pressure.”