Fighter jets and nuclear submarines in exchange for milk? The extraordinary offer was made by Russia to New Zealand in 1993, a new book has claimed.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was struggling to pay the USD 100 million it owed New Zealand for a range of imported dairy products, the Guardian reported.
In a meeting with Russian officials to chalk out payment terms, Jim Bolger, then New Zealand prime minister, was left "absolutely stunned" to be offered a nuclear submarine and two MiG fighter jets in lieu of money, according to Clive Lind, the author of the book, 'Till the Cows Came Home'.
Lind, who interviewed Bolger and former New Zealand Dairy Board chairman Dryden Spring, who was also present at the meeting, said the offer had been made by Alexander Shokhin, then deputy prime minister of Russia.
"The Russians were trying to come up with lines of credit before Shokhin mentioned there were other funding arrangements," Lind was quoted by the daily as saying.
"He pointed out that MiG jets were highly desirable and that they also had surplus tanks to offer. Jim Bolger had to explain that he wasn't in the market for second-hand tanks," Lind added.
Perhaps most remarkably, Shokhin then offered a nuclear submarine to wipe out Russia's debt.
Noting that New Zealand was a staunchly non-nuclear-powered country, he suggested hooking the vessel up to the national grid and using it as a power plant for a coastal city, the report said.
"Bolger recalled the reaction he would have got if he returned to a nuclear-free New Zealand and told people that he hadn't got any money for them but had secured a nuclear submarine instead," Lind said. "It simply wasn't going to fly."
After politely declining the offer of the military equipment, New Zealand managed to secure a number of periodic payments from Russia, totalling about USD 30 million - less than a third of the total debt.
"The world was awash with butter at the time and we needed Russia to take ours. While we needed the money to pay our farmers, we also needed to secure a market for our butter, which Russia agreed to. Plus, you can buy MiG jets for a lot less than USD 30 million. There was a guy who bought one in New Zealand for just USD 15,000 not so long ago," Bolger reportedly told Lind.