The United States is suspending tens of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine after determining that the government of President Leonid Kuchma approved the sale of an advanced anti-aircraft radar system to Iraq. The issue is prompting the Bush administration to review its relationship with the Kiev government.
U.S. officials say they have a secretly-made tape recording in which President Kuchma is overheard approving the sale of this early warning radar system to Iraq. The tape was made two years ago and handed over to the United States by a former Kuchma bodyguard after he fled the country.
U.S. officials have not released it, but say they believe the tape is authentic, so much so that it has led Washington to suspend $54 million in direct aid to the Kuchma government, and initiate an overall review of U.S. policy toward the country. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher could not say however, whether the sale - reported to be worth about $100 million - had definitely gone through. "We're not certain that these systems are in Iraq," he said. "On the other hand, there some indications that suggest it may be there and we're continuing to assess those."
If the sale did take place, it would be in violation of United Nations sanctions prohibiting the import of items that could be used by the Iraqi military. Ukraine has denied to the United States selling such equipment to Baghdad.
Much of the military equipment Iraq purchased before the Gulf War 11 years ago was made in the former Soviet Union - in particular in what is now Ukraine. The alleged sale of this anti-aircraft radar system in question is said to be capable of spotting stealth aircraft without being detected.