Ukraine says missiles smuggled to Iran

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Reuters: Ukraine says cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads have been “smuggled” out of the country to Iran, but denies a report they were exported with official sanction. The country’s new liberal government, swept to power in January on pledges to stamp out high-level corruption and forge closer ties with the West, said it would tighten controls on the export of technology with military use. Reuters

KIEV – Ukraine says cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads have been “smuggled” out of the country to Iran, but denies a report they were exported with official sanction.

The country’s new liberal government, swept to power in January on pledges to stamp out high-level corruption and forge closer ties with the West, said it would tighten controls on the export of technology with military use.

The Financial Times quoted Ukraine’s prosecutor general on Friday as saying Kiev authorities had sold missiles to Iran and China.

The daily quoted prosecutor-general Svyatoslav Piskun as saying 18 X-55 cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55s or AS-15s, were exported in 2001, when former President Leonid Kuchma was in power. But none was exported with nuclear warheads.

The United States accuses Iran of trying to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is only for power generation.

The X-55 has a range of some 3,000 km (1,800 miles). Launched from Iran, it could reach Israel.

Piskun’s office described the Financial Times account as untrue, drawing a distinction between formal export and what he described as smuggling.

“At issue in this interview is not the export of missiles but rather smuggling,” a prosecution statement said.

“The SBU (security service) has launched a criminal case against the director of the Ukraviazakaz firm, V. Yevdokimov, in this connection. This case has been examined since August 2004 by the Kiev regional appeal court in closed session.”

The affair highlighted the problems faced in imposing control on the Soviet legacy of military high technology, especially in core republics of the former Soviet military-industrial complex such as Ukraine.

EU IN SIGHTS

It said two Russians were being sought and the extradition had been requested of a third held in the Czech Republic.

A Czech court is due to hear arguments on whether Russian entrepreneur Oleg Orlov can legally be extradited to Ukraine. Orlov was arrested at Prague airport in 2004 while in transit.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, speaking in Belarus, said the government in power after mass “Orange Revolution” protests “can only denounce past unauthorised transfers of arms”.

“Ukraine’s president and government have drawn conclusions and want to reorganise the system of export controls.”

The Financial Times quoted the U.S. embassy in Kiev as saying it was “closely monitoring” a Ukrainian government investigation into the case.

The Western diplomat said: “What we know to be true is that there are credible reports of a sale or transfer of Kh-55 missiles to China or Iran. But we don’t know if they are true.

“There have been problems in the past with Ukraine’s exports of weapons of mass destruction or advance weaponry. The dialogue with the previous government was not quite satisfactory.”

Washington alleged for a time that Kuchma’s government had sold an aircraft detection system to Iraq while Saddam Hussein was in power. Kuchma denied the charge.

New liberal President Viktor Yushchenko wants to steer Ukraine towards membership of the European Union, which expects to lift an arms embargo against China by the end of June.