#6 - JRL 7008
From: "Stefan Korshak" <email@example.com>
Subject: re 7007-Blank/Proliferation
Date: Tue, 7 Jan 2003
I have these remarks regarding the Asia Times article by Stephen Blank, which you published on January 7.
I can't comment on the entire Blank piece, as Russia is usually out of my sandbox, but I would note that with regard to Ukraine and Belarus - which I follow pretty closely - Blank's assertation Moscow uses Kiev and Minsk as "middlemen" for illicit weapons sales seems very hard to credit. Part of the problem is factual errors.
The now-infamous Kolchuga radar systems - according to Blank sold to Iraq via Ukraine after manufacture in unamed Russian factories - are in fact built at the Topaz factory in Ukraine's east. You don't have to take my word for it; a team of U.S.-British inspectors toured the premises late last year, after Ukraine caved into to pressure from Washington on the weapons-to-Iraq allegations. The inspectors found all sorts of radar manufacturing but no proof any of it went to Iraq, so their interim findings were inconclusive. The Ukrainians are now arguing this proves the radars never went to Iraq, while the U.S. State Department is hinting maybe they did anyway, but so for isn't offering any proof. The only really hard facts in the affair so far seem to be (1) so far no one has found any Kolchuga radars lurking in Iraq (although maybe the NSA will prove me wrong on that), and (2) no one besides Blank seems to be pointing their finger at the Russians for the whole mess.
If you check out the main anti-government web site in Ukraine www.pravda.com.ua, you can read in three languages the text of a tape recording supposedly between Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and the former head of the Ukrainian weapons export monopolist Ukrspetsexport, where the pair apparently plot to sell four of the radars to Iraq for 100 million dollars, seemingly by disguising the equipment as Kraz truck parts. (The Kolchuga is truck-mounted, so that wouldn't be the worst of smuggling ideas.) Kuchma denies the conversation took place, and the export company boss died in a car accident. But if you believe the tape is authentic - and the U.S. State Department has said the FBI pronounced the recording real - then you have to deal with the fact that in all the scheming, not once does Kuchma mention the Russians. Indeed, if you plow through the recordings available - supposedly 300 hours of Presidential conversations were taped - the impression that the Ukrainian President spends an inordinate amount of time avoiding Russian wishes, rather than kowtowing to them, is unavoidable. Blank offers little evidence to support his claim of Russian manufacture and export the Kolchugas. If he has such proof I for one would be fascinated to see it, as among other things the news would be a public relations disaster for both Kiev and Washington, in roughly equal parts.
I come to the same general conclusion on Blank's assertations Moscow is uses Belarus as a funnel for illicit arms shipments to places like Iran and Baghdad. A few independent news agencies have reported on the possibility of Belarussian military equipment to Iraq; in general the allegations involve spare parts for armored personnel carriers, small arms, and perhaps night vision equipment; none of it particularly high-tech. The Belarussian Foreign Ministry has energetically denied the reports, so perhaps only the spies know for sure. But what seems crystal-clear in Belarus is that if Soviet army surplus really went to Iraq, no one other than President Aleksander Lukashenko could have allowed the transfer to take place. The secret police in Belarus are pretty effective; the chances of a rougue Belarussian general or arms plant manager making a secret deal with the Iraqis without Lukashenko's go-ahead are too small to discuss.
Blank writes that the Russian use of "middlemen, like Belarus, Ukraine, and very probably Serbia, has long been established."
On Serbia I can't comment (except to say I suspect Ukraine sold arms there too), but as far as Kuchma and Lukashenko are concerned, it seems highly improbable they allow their militaries to act as conduits for secret Russian arms shipments to pariah states.
But if Blank has evidence demonstrating otherwise, aside from an article in Kommersant, as I noted, I would be very interested in seeing it, and I would not be alone.