For the first time in its brief history as an independent country, Ukraine has been practically formally accused by the United States. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said at a briefing that Major Melnychenko’s audio tape with a conversation between Leonid Kuchma and Valery Malev, the then director of the state owned arms exporting company, Ukrspetseksport, dating from July 2000, was authentic. (In that conversation Mr. Kuchma and Valery Malev discussed the possibility of selling to Iraq, through a Jordanian intermediary, an early warning system known as Kolchuha, capable of detecting even stealth flights.) In view of this, Washington announced it would reexamine its Ukrainian policy, initiating a “temporary pause” in the US aid to Ukraine. The important point is that the possibility of Ukrainian arms sales, contrary to UN sanctions, is considered, rather than the fact (otherwise the US message would have been very different). Richard Boucher happened to make his statement at the moment when the Ukrainian opposition was out in the streets, so for many it looked more than a coincidence, although Washington denies any association.
President Kuchma, meeting with opposition deputies, proposed a parliamentary commission of inquiry into the alleged inllegal arms sales and promised support in every possible way, so the issue could be closed and removed from the agenda, along with all speculations within and without Ukraine, said Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the presidential administration. He added that he was personally convinced that the new wave of accusations against Ukraine had a most direct connection with the opposition’s acts of protest; that business interests on the part of certain political and economic forces both inside and outside Ukraine were involved, and that any sanctions that could be levied on Ukraine would be totally ungrounded, because the United States has no evidence of Ukraine’s involvement in or with unlawful arms sales. Mr. Medvedchuk informed that during his meeting with US Ambassador Carlos Pascual they agreed on a meeting between Ukrainian and US experts to discuss the matter. Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn also proposed a commission of inquiry. Borys Andresiuk, deputy chairman of the VR National Security and Defense Committee, believes the only way to solve the problem is keeping all doors open for international organizations and initiating an international inquiry. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s press service issued a statement resolutely denying all accusations, stressing that the State Department spokesman’s arguments are bottomless, that there is no evidence worth being considered. The Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office informed that an analysis of publications and inspections carried out by them produced no evidence of Kolchuha sales to Iraq. The United States, for its part, emphasized the possibility of such sales, not the fact.
The State Department briefing, press campaign being replaced by practically formal accusations, and acts of protest in Ukraine are hardly coincidental. It is, however, impossible to prove the presence or absence of a scenario; it is worth noting that all of the US politics is based on war-against-terrorism slogans, and that Iraq is America’s number one enemy, so that all events having any bearing on that enemy acquire a special meaning. Endless arguments can be provided, denying the political implication of that Melnychenko audio tape being pronounced authentic on that particular date. It did not take an expert to see that the relationships between the White House and Bankova Street ran a crack as the first cassette scandal broke out in Ukraine. No conclusions were drawn, including cadre ones. And now this. What is this if not evidence of a foreign political failure (and even more than that)?
The Ukrainian government received the same message as in State Department spokesman Richard Boucher’s statement: expert findings proving that Melnychenko’s audio tape with the conversation between President Leonid Kuchma and Valery Malev, the then director of Ukrspetseksport (later killed in an aviation accident — Ed.), concerning Kolchuha sale to Iraq, is authentic. In other words, it wasn’t doctored in any way, and the voices actually belong to Leonid Kuchma and Valery Malev.
Carlos Pascual, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to Ukraine, told The Day September 25 that the American side made it clear there was no evidence of the Kolchuha system’s physical presence in Iraq, but that there was information indicating that it might be there.
At the briefing, Richard Boucher said the United States had decided to reexamine its policy toward Ukraine and President Kuchma, and that it would be done not because of the sale of that defense system to Iraq, contrary to UN sanctions. It was important for the US leadership that the fact of the conversation in which a national leader discussed the possibility of selling arms to Iraq was confirmed. Some at the US upper echelons said that, in the presence of conclusive evidence of Ukrainian arms supplies to Iraq, the US and UN Security Council sanctions would be immediately applied.
Reexamining the US-Ukrainian policy is aimed primarily at giving a clear signal to other countries, restraining them from attempting such transactions with Iraq. Second, it is a formula allowing to preserve cooperation between the United States and Ukraine, to uphold Ukraine’s democratic and market reforms.
There will be a pause in the US making decisions on the aid to the Ukrainian government for the duration of that political reexamination. The pause does not affect the bulk of US assistance to Ukraine, which goes to the private sector, including nongovernmental organizations and local and regional government bodies. Programs to support activities like small business, land titling, also military-to-military ones, those combating white slave trade, preventing sales of weapons of mass destruction, and upholding freedom of the press will continue. In fact, Mr. Pascual stressed that it is not stoppage but a temporary pause. Meanwhile decisions will be made — for example, to channel such money to another direction of assisting Ukraine. The United States wants this aid to be more flexible and have more room for maneuver.
The US ambassador further assured that his government made its decision when it did only because the expert findings on the recording had become available just then, and not owing to any other reasons. For the United States, the fact that Iraq is a threat to international security is of principal importance, and that there is an obvious threat to US pilots, said Mr. Pascual.
He noted regretfully that the Ukrainian opposition was sure to take advantage of the situation, and that some would assume US involvement with Major Melnychenko, wishing to topple President Kuchma. This is not true, in the words of the ambassador. For example, Mr. Pascual could not explain why Melnychenko made public some of the tapes and not others. The American side was well aware of the complex situation, particularly after Melnychenko was charged with high treason and seeing that the State Department’s decision coincided with political tension in Ukraine. Washington, however, insisted on the priority of problems relating to international security, in view of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime. As a representative of the American president and State Department, he declared that his country was not siding with any political forces, just as no one intended to mix the situation with Iraq with Ukraine’s inner problems. This should not be a factor in the Ukrainian domestic situation, although, regrettable, there would always be forces wishing to use it for their own ends, he added.
What caused Washington’s anger is generally known; during NATO Secretary General George Robertson’s visit to Ukraine, official Kyiv promised a full-scale investigation into the alleged sale of Kolchuha to Iraq, and that a detailed report would be made public. Nothing happened. Moreover, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Radchenko said in his interview with The Financial Times that Valery Malev had indeed suggested, a week prior to the aviation accident, that Kolchuha be sold to Iraq via a Jordanian intermediary. But that the transaction had been forbidden.
Washington regarded the presidential administration’s prompt statement, expressing preparedness to cooperate with other countries, including the US, in investigating the situation, as a constructive signal. Now the White House expects the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to publish a detailed list of all who have visited Iraq of late, including business people, people’s deputies, and governmental officials.
As for possible consequences, no one is sure at this stage, just as no one confirms an overall reduction in US aid to Ukraine. On the one hand, Kolchuha and the Melnychenko tape are sure to deal another heavy blow to the image of not so much the Ukrainian authorities as Ukraine as a whole. Ambassador Pascual believes that the alleged Kolchuha sale to Iraq, if it were actually discussed by the Ukrainian president, would inevitably affect the attitude of other political leaders to Ukraine.
On the other hand, Mr. Pascual told The Day September 25, Ukraine has been invited to the NATO summit in Prague. Canceling the invitation has to be considered by all 19 member countries. The issue is not on the agenda. The US ambassador denied having ever said that Ukraine would not take part in the Prague summit; he also hoped that the scheduled visits of Vice Premier Vasyl Rohovy and Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko to the United States would take place.
Ukraine, it seems, has been chosen as an example to teach other countries a lesson. In fact, Washington is not the only place where President Kuchma’s policy is disapproved. Kyiv did not pass muster coping with the Gongadze case and the first cassette scandal. Whereas the Ukrainian regime has once again found itself in a difficult situation (being in international isolation, if it comes to that, won’t be anything new to it), the Ukrainian opposition is not in its best shape, either. There are too many problems and more questions concerning the next round of the cassette scandal and political implications than there are clearly stated answers. America is aware of all this.
Washington is not likely to take long revising its Ukrainian policy, meaning that the required conclusions have been drawn and decisions made. The main thing now is to calmly figure out the situation and at least try not to have a fit of anti-American, anti-Western, or any other hysterics.
Alexander RAHR, German Foreign Policy Society, Berlin:
“The United States is gripped by a prewar hysteria, Washington is looking for enemies, dividing the world into black and white. In addition, one ought to remember the everlasting competition on the arms market. Indeed, a slur may well be cast on Ukraine, Belarus, and even Russia, yet I wouldn’t overly dramatize the situation.”
Volodymyr HORBULIN, Chairman, the Military-Industrial Complex State Commission:
“I can’t guarantee that the president did or did not have that conversation with Malev. I haven’t asked the president and no one can ask Malev now... I’m positive about one thing; Ukraine has never sold the Kolchuha to Iraq. I know the radar system well, all its characteristics, and I know the consequences Ukraine would suffer if it sold it.
“As for the timing of the publications in Western media, I think it highly improper in terms of diplomacy, assuming that it was a planned action.”
Volodymyr BONDARENKO, Executive Director, International Political Consulting Center:
“Let me start by pointing out that the date of the [opposition] action, September 24, wasn’t coincidental, for it was on that day that America came out with the accusations against the Ukrainian president, relying on Melnychenko’s deciphered tape. Suppose we skip the subject of the authenticity of those accusations and the reliability of the information source (that has of late become so popular with both Ukrainian and certain US politicians and journalists). All those present at the Verkhovna Rada morning session last Tuesday couldn’t but notice Oleksandr Moroz’s tone when relating the main points of claims addressing the head of the Ukrainian state, borrowed from a US newspaper. That tone was dramatically different compared to his usual political soliloquies and those of other opposition leaders that day. He was composed and unemotional, his speech was obviously meant not for the deputies, not even for the crowd in front of the Verkhovna Rada. He addressed only one person, Leonid Kuchma. His message could be summed up, “You don’t want to resign, so we’ll get you from across the ocean.” Now that the opposition leaders can see that the wave of “people’s wrath” worked up by them is not enough to reach their political objectives, their one hope is help from abroad. Therefore, I believe that the situation in Ukraine, specifically in terms of rallies and other acts of protest, will shortly depend entirely on external factors. In case of further accusations of arms deals with Iraq or of something like that, such rallies and tent cities will mushroom. In the absence of such external stimuli, the situation will soon get back to normal, even if for a while.”
Andriy YERMOLAIEV, Director, the Sophia Social Study Center:
“The way Symonenko, Moroz, Washington, and Tony Blair have acted forms a context originating from 2000 and 2001 when the opposition suffered a fiasco. Fresh information concerning arms deals, Mr. Symonenko’s sudden warheads expose, Mr. Blair’s report, and Washington’s current stand with regard to the Melnychenko tapes and freezing money are components of a single complex pattern. All because the Ukrainian regime, in the person of the president and his team, did not have a clear picture of the year 2001.
“At the time, the powers that be took advantage of the deadlock when the opposition proved unable to carry out democratic reforms single-handedly, waiting for the West to make the decisions for them. The West was afraid to do anything about a regime in the heart of Europe, for this threatened a major geopolitical conflict. The authorities figured that if they moved quickly into Europe and NATO against that stalemate background and with the right slogans, everything would be fine in the end. The reverse was true, however, because everybody got scared by Ukraine’s vigor. First, we had Salzburg. Second, we had indefinite military and political prospects. Third, we had to hand the oil pipeline over the scared Russians. Fourth, the opposition showed an outburst of energy, coming out with new messages sounding even more threatening than the problems of the murdered journalist and violations of the constitution.
“As for the outcome of the current situation, Ukraine has no secret ill-wishers determined to oust the president or anyone else. They (we call them external management) are actually interested in our domestic atmosphere and politics. And so, preventive measures are taken (like information pressure) when certain subjects act in a queer and unpredictable manner. I don’t think that the West and Russia, being the most influential entities in the Ukrainian foreign political domain, would want this country to suffer a revolutionary cataclysm (early elections or an unconstitutional takeover). They’d rather make serious corrections in our regime’s conduct. Therefore, I don’t expect a revolution. That external management will use its levers among the Ukrainian opposition to pressure the regime to move in the democratic direction. Also, I think it is obvious that we need a new constitution.”
Dmytro PASTERNAK-TARANUSHENKO, First Deputy Director, International Comparative Analysis Center:
“What the opposition is doing in Ukraine and what is happening across the ocean are interrelated processes. This interrelation is so obvious, some don’t like it.
“In principle, it would be hard to condemn the opposition for what they’re doing; the regime has left them no living space in Ukraine, depriving them of the smallest chance to receive support from within. The media are subjugated by the powers that be. Businesses favoring the opposition are persecuted and politicians bullied. Upsetting the balance with such rudeness could not be left unpunished. The so-called attainments of the presidential team in 1998-2000 turned out a Pyrrhic victory. The opposition, in order to survive, had to seek help in the West and they were prepared to accept it on practically any terms.
“At present, Ukraine has a formidable ally and protector, the United States. It will help, but will want something in return, of course. Americans, owing to the genetic peculiarities of their civilization, constantly need self-assertion. Replacing inconvenient regimes is one of their traditional self-assertion methods and the Ukrainian opposition is called upon to help their influential ally.
“Talking of inadmissible arms supplies to Hussein, that focus of world evil, I think that the Americans ought to have taken a more consistent stand themselves. They openly supplied weapons to Hussein during the war between Iraq and Iran, although Hussein used chemical weapons more than once even then. In the mid-1980s, this did not cause righteous American wrath and Hussein was regarded as a potential US ally (a convenient enemy of the inconvenient Islamic regime in Iran), rather than the world’s worst bastard.
“I have nothing against Washington exerting a civilized influence on the Ukrainian regime to step up its movement toward democracy — considering that the regime is in no hurry to get democratic. Likewise, I don’t mind dubious regimes being relieved of weapons of mass destruction and banning all military supplies to them. Today, however, I am worried about Ukraine being affixed to that axis of evil, practically without conclusive incriminating evidence. The consequences may be terrifying. Five years before air raids in Yugoslavia few could imagine that Western dislike of Serbian Communists would go that far.”