Iran General NewsUkraine admits exporting missiles to Iran and China

Ukraine admits exporting missiles to Iran and China

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Financial Times: Ukraine has admitted that it exported 12 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China amid mounting pressure from other countries to explain how the sales occurred. Svyatoslav Piskun, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, told the FT that 18 X-55 cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55s or AS-15s, were exported in 2001. Financial Times

By Tom Warner in Kiev

Ukraine has admitted that it exported 12 cruise missiles to Iran and six to China amid mounting pressure from other countries to explain how the sales occurred.

Svyatoslav Piskun, Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, told the FT that 18 X-55 cruise missiles, also known as Kh-55s or AS-15s, were exported in 2001. None of the missiles was exported with the nuclear warheads they were designed to carry. However, Japan and the US say they are worried by what appears to have been a significant leak of technology from the former Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.

The X-55 has a range of 3,000 km, enough to put Japan within striking range of the Asian continent or to reach Israel from Iran.

The US embassy in Kiev said it was “closely monitoring” the investigation and wanted the findings of a secret trial made public. The US is critical of European diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Japan fears it could be vulnerable to a nuclear strike from the Asian mainland if the Ukrainian missiles fall into Korean hands.

Kishichiro Amae, Japan’s ambassador in Kiev, said he was hopeful that the new Ukrainian government, which took over in January, would explain the case but so far he had received no information.

Mr Amae said the new Ukrainian government had shown its readiness to investigate the previous government’s misdemeanours when it indicted three high-ranking interior ministry officers this month for the murder in 2000 of journalist Georgy Gongadze. But he said the cruise missile case was more serious. “If it is handled in secrecy, the new government will lose the confidence of the world.”

Mr Piskun’s admission that Ukraine sold the missiles is the first confirmation by a government official that the exports occurred. The case was made public last month by a member of Ukraine’s parliament, whose account Mr Piskun largely confirmed.

The acquisition by Iran of cruise missiles, if proved, would heighten concerns about its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Piskun said he understood Japan was concerned that the missiles delivered to China could have ended up in North Korea, although there were no grounds to suspect such a transfer.

Ukraine had about 1,000 of the missiles in its arsenal after the break-up of the Soviet Union, about half of which were meant to have been turned over to Russia in the 1990s and the other half of which were supposed to have been destroyed under a US-funded disarmament programme.

The previous government arrested and charged a Ukrainian businessman for the exports and initiated a secret trial last year, which was still under way, Mr Piskun said.

Two Russian businessmen were suspected of masterminding the sale, Mr Piskun said, one of whom, Oleg Orlov, was arrested last July in Prague in response to a Ukrainian warrant. The Czech justice ministry said it was holding Mr Orlov pending a hearing on Ukraine’s extradition request.

Olexander Turchinov, new chief of the SBU, has reopened the investigation and has found grounds to suspect two former arms-export officials, Mr Piskun’s spokesman said. A spokeswoman for Mr Turchinov confirmed that further investigations and a secret trial were under way in connection with the case.

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