On April 20, a drill surface-to-surface missile Tochka-U launched by Ukrainian Air Defense troops hit a nine-story apartment building in the town of Brovary, near Kyiv, killing three and injuring five. A Defense Ministry investigation announced on April 27 that the Soviet-made missile deviated from its course–from a Chernihiv Region training ground to another–after an explosion of its gas generator, which tore off the missile’s tail and rudders. The Tochka missile, the guaranteed life of which is approximately ten years, was adopted in the Soviet Union in 1989. By 2000, eighteen successful launches of this type of missile had been made in Ukraine.
The stray rocket missed Kyiv by some ten miles, but the commander of the Ukrainian Missile Troops and Artillery Lieutenant-General Volodymyr Tereshchenko, said in a TV interview on April 23 that it was only “by the will of God” that the missile did not hit the Chernobyl nuclear plant, which was within the missile range. It is hard to forecast the extent of possible consequences had it done so. Initially, the military tried to conceal their blunder, insisting that the rocket had hit its intended target and implying that the building explosion was caused by something else, such as gas. It was the Internal Affairs Ministry which spoke up on April 22 and acknowledged that the building in Brovary was in fact hit by the missile. This admission came, of course, only after some of the missile fragments were found. Apparently, military sources leaked information to this effect to the media. On April 24 Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk apologized for the accident.
It was generally expected that Kuzmuk and Tereshchenko would resign. President Leonid Kuchma–in his dual capacity as head of state and the supreme commander of the Ukrainian Armed Forces–stepped in to defend Kuzmuk. Kuchma said that he would not punish Kuzmuk, a Western-oriented military professional who was appointed minister in 1996. On April 29, Kuzmuk discharged Tereshchenko and dismissed or demoted to lower ranks several high-ranking officers in the missile forces and the Northern Operational Command. Kuzmuk explained that they, first, failed to foresee the possibility of an accident and, second, lied to their superiors and the nation after it happened. The accident raises serious concerns both about the reliability of the outdated weaponry which Ukraine inherited from the Soviet Union, and about the dangers connected with conducting military exercises in Ukraine’s densely populated areas. The accident may also affect Kuzmuk’s plan to lease Ukraine’s largest training grounds, Yavoriv, in the Lviv Region to NATO to raise funds for the cash-strapped Ukrainian army (STB TV, April 21; UT-1, April 22, 29; Studio 1+1, April 23, 29; New Channel TV, April 24)
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