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West Spurns Ukrainian President

Monday, 04 November 2002 12:00 AM

Last week, Ukraine's foreign minister accused NATO of "manipulation" for declining to invite Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma to a long-awaited summit, following allegations that he approved the sale of a sophisticated radar system to Iraq. NATO said it would go ahead with ministerial-level meetings with Ukraine, but Kuchma himself was not invited.

The NATO-Ukraine meeting will be held at the Nov. 21-22 summit in Prague, where the 19 NATO countries are to invite seven Eastern European nations to become members. The decision not to invite Kuchma reflects the negative European feeling toward the Ukrainian leader, a former Communist official and missile-factory director in the Soviet era, whose administration represses democratic movements domestically and develops relations with rogue nations internationally.

In 1991, when the Ukrainian people voted overwhelmingly for independence from the collapsing Soviet Union, Western experts predicted that Ukraine, with its industrial might, advanced technologies and rich soil, could easily transform itself into a new European democracy.

Almost the size of Texas and with more than twice as many people (about 49 million), Ukraine is located between Russia and central Europe and for many centuries has been a crossroads in the turbulent dealings between its powerful neighbors.

Ukraine is now facing its own turning point, one which reflects domestic turmoil and negative feelings among millions of Ukrainians who have been betrayed by their political leaders. The benefits of independence have bypassed millions of ordinary Ukrainians, and there are signs in the country of a drift toward Soviet-style authoritarianism. This trend and actions abroad could make Ukraine more of a peril to the Western world than a reliable partner.

In early September, reports surfaced that Kuchma had approved the sale of a $100 million military radar system to Iraq. The Soviet-designed Kolchuga (Hauberk) radar system tracks aircraft and surface vehicles silently by triangulating radio signals from aircraft.

On Sept. 16, the U.S. government suspended $54 million of the $250 million a year it gives Ukraine in foreign aid after determining the authenticity of a secretly taped recording of Kuchma authorizing the sale in July 2000.

As NewsMax.com reported on Oct. 7, the U.S. and Britain have sent specialists to Ukraine to determine whether any systems were actually transferred to Iraq, where they could endanger American and British aircraft patrolling no-fly zones. The result of the special investigation, which met strong resistance from local Ukrainian authorities, has yet to be announced.

Apart from the Iraq sale, Kuchma is also suspected of involvement in the unsolved killing of well known Ukrainian Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze. Tapes released by a presidential security guard earlier this year feature a voice thought to be Kuchma's discussing the killing.

The tape scandal has badly damaged Kuchma's reputation abroad, hindering Ukraine's efforts at closer integration with NATO and the European Union. Domestically, the allegations provoked months of anti-Kuchma demonstrations, and have boosted the clout of opposition leaders whose calls for Kuchma's resignation, or at least a change in the political system, have increasingly resounded among Ukrainians, whose distrust of a government widely seen as corrupt is already deep.

Opposition leaders said the Kuchma administration has responded to the increasingly vocal protests by exercising control over the media to muffle criticism and pulling bureaucratic levers to thwart the electorate's will. In parliamentary elections last march, Kuchma's supporters used their influence with local authorities, state workers and farm, factory and mine directors to manipulate the outcome.

There is no doubt that under Kuchma's leadership, Ukraine is moving further away from democratic and free-market economic reforms, and actually returning to its totalitarian past. If the situation is not changed, we can expect serious trouble in Ukraine, which will dramatically destabilize the strategic environment in Eastern Europe.

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Last week, Ukraine's foreign minister accused NATO of manipulation for declining to invite Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma to a long-awaited summit, following allegations that he approved the sale of a sophisticated radar system to Iraq. NATO said it would go ahead with...
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Monday, 04 November 2002 12:00 AM
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