Moscow, 3 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian officials say they're not impressed by a reported Ukrainian threat to hinder Moscow's space program unless Russia stops blocking a huge Ukrainian arms deal with Pakistan.
The row over the lucrative order for a total 320 T-80 tanks has taken a lively turn, with words like "ultimatum," "blackmail" and "hysterical" being thrown about in the Russian press.
More important than a war of words are the potentially serious implications for Russia's space program, which is already suffering acute financing problems, as well as for Moscow's long-standing ties with India -- a major customer for Russian arms.
The row centers on Russia's refusal to supply Ukraine with more parts for T-80UD tanks to allow that country to carry through a $650 million deal with Pakistan. Russia supplies unique 125mm cannons for these tanks, plus the engines, heat visors and other key parts, without which Kyiv can hardly fulfil the order.
Russian press reports say that the main Ukrainian arms dealer Ukrspetsexport, which has already received some $70 million from Pakistan, quietly shipped 15 complete tanks to that country before officially announcing the deal.
Now, when the deal has been revealed, Ukraine will get no more 125-mm cannons or any other T-80 parts no matter what pressure it applies, Russia's chief arms exporter Rosvooruzhenye said.
Rosvooruzhenye spokesman Ivan Skrylnik said in a press interview that "as a state company we are determined to stand by and protect our country's national interests." And these interests will not be served if hundreds of T-80s arrive in Pakistan which has very tense relations with India, Moscow's strategic partner and chief importer of Russian-made weaponry.
Together with China, India has bought an estimated 60 percent of arms exported by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Last month, Russia's Foreign Trade Minister Oleg Davydov said he will never allow further shipments of T-80 tank spare parts to Ukraine. Our correspondent says Russia is annoyed that Ukraine and other former Soviet republics have been selling surplus equipment from their Soviet-made weaponry arsenals, often at dumping prices. This lures clients away from Russia, which currently ranks second in the list of world's largest arms exporters.
Getting back to the threat to the Russian space program, the Russian daily "Sevodnya" has reported on what it called an "ultimatum" and "blackmail" by Ukrainian authorities. It said the secretary of the Ukrainian President's National Security Council, Vladimir Gorbulin, had linked shipments of space docking units from Ukraine to continuation of parts shipments for the tanks. Sevodnya described this as a "somewhat hysterical" threat.
Gorbulin's senior aide Yevgeny Grischada told RFE/RL that he could "neither confirm nor deny" that the Security Council secretary believes Ukraine should link docking systems to tank parts.
An RFE/RL correspondent in Moscow quotes Russian Space Agency official Boris Aleksin as saying the reported Ukrainian threat "doesn't scare us." Aleskin oversees relations with Ukraine at the space agency. He said that if need be, Russia is able to make for itself the docking systems at present built in Ukraine.
He said that most of these systems, including the "Kurs" automatic docking apparatus, had anyway been designed with the help of Russian scientists.
"We have the technology" he said. But he struck a more ominous note when he added "All we need is sufficient financing." He went on to say that in any case, the Russian and Ukrainian space industries are too closely integrated to be separated by any ill-thought-out decision.
Aleksin said any rupture of shipments from Ukraine would not affect Russia's efforts to assemble and launch key elements of the international space station Alfa. The Alfa project is being developed jointly by Russia, the United States, the European Space Agency, Japan and Canada.
Washington has repeatedly expressed concern about the ability of Russia to continue participing if the latter continues to stall with funding and with the production of such a key Alfa components as the service module that is scheduled is to start orbiting the Earth by next year.