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Ukraine: Prosecutor-General Denies Kolchuha Sale To Iraq

Ukraine continues to dispute U.S. claims that it approved the sale of the sophisticated Kolchuha radar system to Iraq in violation of United Nations sanctions. RFE/RL reports from Kyiv that Ukrainian officials say there is no evidence suggesting that such a sale was ever made.

Kyiv, 4 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Kyiv is dismissing allegations by Washington that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed to sell Iraq a sophisticated aircraft-detection radar system.

The United States says it believes Kuchma violated United Nations sanctions two years ago when he approved the sale of a Kolchuha radar warning system to Baghdad. The U.S. is now withholding some $54 million in aid pending further investigation.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun has been investigating the U.S. claim. He says there is no evidence to suggest that Ukraine sold the Kolchuha system to Iraq: "My investigators, in the course of looking into this matter about the Kolchuha sale to Iraq, concluded that independent Ukraine did not sell or transfer Kolchuha to Iraq."

Piskun did not address the issue of whether Kuchma initially approved the Kolchuha sale, saying has proof that, ultimately, no sale was ever made: "Where there were discussions about this or not is something that does not interest me. What interests me is the fact [of the sale], whether it happened or not. I know that it did not happen. I know that the Kolchuhas that were manufactured during Ukraine's independence are here, they are accounted for and they are in the places where they are supposed to be. There are no others and therefore they cannot be [elsewhere]."

The U.S. has based its allegations on secret recordings, made by a former Kuchma bodyguard, which purport to connect the Ukrainian leader to a series of corrupt deals and the murder of an opposition journalist.

Washington says it has verified the authenticity of the tapes, including an alleged conversation between Kuchma and the Valery Malev, the head of Ukraine's arms export agency, discussing the Kolchuha deal.

U.S. Ambassador to Kyiv Carlos Pascual discussed the U.S. findings on the recordings' legitimacy: "The U.S. has confirmed, the United States experts have confirmed, that the conversation between President Kuchma and Mr. Malev concerning the transfer of the Kolchuha passive detection system to Iraq was an authentic recording."

But Piskun complains that the U.S. is refusing to grant Ukrainian investigators access to the original tapes. He says Ukraine should have the opportunity to determine to its own satisfaction whether the tapes are authentic, and says the U.S. refusal is unfair. "In order for us to say yes or now [about the recordings' authenticity], we should have the originals. But [the U.S.] is not giving us the originals. Imagine a situation where somebody sits in a darkened room and listens to the recordings, then opens the door and announces: 'I've listened to this and that, and it's authentic,' and then closes the door again. The only choice you're left with is to either say yes or no because you aren't given any chance to verify it yourself."

The U.S. State Department says there is no proof the Kolchuha sale was ever made, but that there are indications the system may be in Iraq. The U.S. says such a sale would clearly breach UN sanctions against Iraq and would endanger U.S. and British pilots monitoring no-fly zones there. Baghdad's possession of the Kolchuha system would also hamper military efforts should the U.S. decide to launch a campaign to oust Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's conventional radar systems have often been destroyed by allied planes, which can detect the installation by the radar signals it itself emits. The Kolchuha -- which is the Ukrainian word for "chain mail" -- is different in that it does not send out signals as it scans the skies for aircraft. The Kolchuha system can monitor a broad variety of radio traffic in the air and spot its target as an electronic silhouette interrupting other signals.

The Kolchuha, which can be mounted in a truck and is easily concealed, then transmits the target's location to antiaircraft-missile batteries.

The system was jointly constructed by Ukraine and Russia when both were part of the former Soviet Union, and launched in 1986. After Ukrainian independence in 1991, Russia claimed most of the Kolchuha stocks, but Ukraine went on to manufacture its own version of the system, which it claims is superior to the Soviet-era model.

A senior Ukrainian official who asked to remain anonymous told RFE/RL that Kuchma did approve the Kolchuha deal with Iraq but that the sale was never actually made. Instead, he says Iraq bought a Soviet-era Kolchuha system from Russia.

Ukraine admits that earlier this year it sold three Kolchuha systems to Ethiopia. The U.S. is now investigating whether the installations are now in the African nation.

Military analysts say that Ethiopia does not need such a sophisticated and expensive system because its main rival, Eritrea, cannot counter conventional radar defenses. Some analysts have suggested Ethiopia was acting as a stopover point for the Kolchuha systems before they were eventually delivered to Iraq.

As part of Washington's ongoing investigations, a team of experts led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones traveled this week (1 October) to Kyiv for two days of talks. Jones met with Kuchma, who told her he would cooperate with any probe into the Kolchuha allegations. He again denied any involvement in a possible sale.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Jones had emphasized to Ukrainian officials the "seriousness" with which the U.S. is viewing the Kolchuha affair, and stressed the need for an open and transparent investigation.

Before departing Ukraine on 1 October, Jones, together with her team of State and Defense department officials, also studied Ukrainian records on the import and export of Kolchuha system, the number of times it has appeared at international trade shows, and their current locations on Ukrainian territory.

The State Department says it will send another team of investigators to Ukraine in the "near future."