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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 01:22 GMT 02:22 UK
Analysis: From West's favourite to pariah
Opposition holds an effigy of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during protests in Kiev
Kuchma is under increased pressure to resign

Ukraine, once the West's favourite former Soviet state, is on the verge of becoming an international pariah.

Kolchuga early warning radar
Kolchuga early warning radar
The reason is the authentication in the US of secret recordings, made by a former presidential security guard, in which President Leonid Kuchma is heard authorising sales of an advanced early warning radar to Iraq.

"It is a very serious matter to have a national leader approving a sale in violation of UN resolutions," US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on Tuesday.

What is not known for sure is whether the equipment was actually delivered, though Iraq's air defences improved suddenly in August 2001, when two unmanned predator aircraft were shot down in quick succession.

They were the first losses in 10 years of US and UK enforcement of no-fly zones.

"We are not certain... that these systems are in Iraq," said Mr Boucher.

"On the other hand, there are some indications that suggest it may be there, and we're continuing to assess those."

Kuchma ostracised

President Kuchma has already become an unwelcome visitor in most Western countries, thanks to another item on the secret recordings where he is apparently heard telling a government minister to "deal with" a troublesome journalist, Georgiy Gongadze.

President Leonid Kuchma
President Kuchma was heard to approve the sale

Mr Gongadze's headless and acid-scarred body was later found dumped in a forest.

Since January 2001 Mr Kuchma has not visited any European leader - with the exception of a visit to Brussels to meet EU Commission President Romano Prodi in May this year.

Top-level US-Ukrainian meetings were a regular occurrence until the tapes were leaked, then they abruptly stopped.

It now looks as though Ukraine will not be invited to the Nato summit in Prague in November, despite the existence on paper of a "special" relationship between Ukraine and the alliance.

Impeachment calls

"It's a serious, serious moment in Nato-Ukraine relations," Nato Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Warsaw on Wednesday.

Georgiy Gongadze
Georgiy Gongadze provides a focus for opposition anger

Ukraine has been one of the three or four top recipients of US aid for a number of years, but direct government to government aid, worth more than $50m per year has now been suspended.

Now that the US has said publicly that it believes the tape containing the discussions about radar sales to Iraq is genuine, the international isolation will increase.

This can only make it more difficult for Mr Kuchma to withstand the calls to resign from his own internal opponents, who have been filling the streets of Kiev this week.

Calls for his impeachment are also likely to be stepped up.

The tape at the centre of the row, recorded in summer 2000, has the head of the Ukrainian arms exports agency, Valery Malev, proposing to ship four Kolchuga radar systems to a Jordanian intermediary in falsely labelled crates, and to send installation experts to Iraq on false passports.

Mr Kuchma gives his consent, and adds that the Jordanian must be made to keep quiet about the deal.

Ultimately, it is Mr Malev who will be remaining quiet. He was killed in a car crash in April this year.

But if the tide continues to turn against Mr Kuchma there are others who may speak out.

The BBC's Stephen Eke
"There are a lot of unanswered questions"
Thomas Valasek, US Office of Defence Information
"We're getting into a world where the only reliable information is from intelligence services"

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See also:

25 Sep 02 | Europe
28 Aug 01 | Middle East
23 Sep 02 | Europe
17 Sep 02 | Media reports
16 Sep 02 | Europe
21 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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