Ukraine Admits Missile Transfers

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview
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Ukraine Admits Missile Transfers

Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today

Ukrainian officials have acknowledged that a total of 12 Kh-55 medium-range, air-launched cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads were transferred from Ukraine to Iran and China in the last five years. U.S. officials expressed particular concern about the technical information the countries could likely gain as a result of the transaction.

Although the Soviet Union deployed the approximately 3,000-kilometer-range missiles with nuclear warheads, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Dmitry Svistkov told reporters March 30 that the missiles in question were not exported with such warheads.

Ukraine inherited a substantial nuclear arsenal after the breakup of the Soviet Union but later joined the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state. Kiev completed the return of the Soviet-era nuclear weapons in 1996 and has destroyed all of its bombers capable of delivering the Kh-55.

Yuri Boychenko, an aide to Ukraine's prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, told The Los Angeles Times March 18 that the transaction was "a totally illegal deal carried out by an international criminal group."

The government is currently pursuing a criminal case against a Ukrainian national. Citizens from Russia and Australia were also involved, according to Svistkov.

The group transferred six of the missiles to China in early 2000 and the other six to Iran in May-June 2001, Svistkov said. Oleksandr Turchynov, head of Ukraine's security Service, stated March 31 that his organization prevented the export of an additional eight missiles, the UNIAN News Agency reported.

The Security Service in 2004 discovered the responsible arms dealers, Svistkov added.

Boychenko insisted that the previous Ukrainian government of President Leonid Kuchma "had nothing to do with" the deal. Current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko took power in January.

But Ukrainian legislator Hryhoriy Omelchenko told the Times that there are documents showing that Kuchma "sanctioned the deals." Omelchenko brought the issue to public attention several months ago after reportedly disclosing a letter he had submitted both to Yuschenko and Piskun detailing an ongoing investigation into the matter.

The exports are apparently contrary to Ukraine's commitments under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). Since 1998, Ukraine has been a member of the 34-member MTCR, an informal export control arrangement designed to stem the spread of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload to a range of 300 kilometers or more.

According to Svistkov, the smugglers forged documents naming Russia as the missiles' destination. This is potentially significant because Ukraine agreed in 1999 to send a portion of its Kh-55 missiles to Russia, eventually transferring 582.

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