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Ukraine Denies Sending Arms To Georgia During War

Georgian tanks entering South Ossetia near Tskhinvali on August 8
KYIV (Reuters) -- The top Ukrainian official overseeing weapons exports has denied that the former Soviet republic had supplied arms to Georgia during its brief war with Russia.

Serhiy Bondarchuk, head of state-run Ukrspetseksport, dismissed suggestions in Moscow that Ukraine, a close ally of pro-Western Georgia, had provided weapons during the August conflict.

Russian forces drove deep into Georgia in response to an attempt by Tbilisi to retake the separatist region of South Ossetia and routed Georgian government forces.

He also said that a military cargo, including 33 T-72 tanks now being held by Somali pirates off the East African coast, had been bound for Kenya under a legal contract -- and not for Sudanese rebels as the U.S. Navy had suggested.

"From the beginning of the armed conflict in Georgia, Ukraine did not supply a single round of ammunition," Bondarchuk told a news conference. "If there are any questions at all about this, an investigation should be conducted."

Bondarchuk dismissed suggestions by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on October 2, during talks with Ukraine's prime minister, that Kyiv may have funneled arms to Georgia during the war and that this would constitute a crime.

"The comments made by Mr. Putin are simply untrue," he said. Details of arms deals -- and who is responsible for authorizing them -- have become part of increasingly fierce accusations being traded between President Viktor Yushchenko and his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko this week said authorization of transactions was "under the direct control of the president and the National Security Council".

She demanded an investigation of illegal arms trade, "which, unfortunately, is occurring today in Ukraine". Her allies have called for control to be transferred to the government.

Bondarchuk, however, said the government had sufficient control over the arms trade to prevent illegal transactions.

"Holding talks, signature of contracts, and shipment of weapons is conducted strictly on the basis of authorization of the Export Control Service. This body is part of the government," he said.