Were Ukrainian Arms Supplies to Georgia Illegal?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 222

A Ukrainian parliamentary commission investigating arms supplies to Georgia has claimed that they were illegal. The commission chairman, Valery Konovalyuk from the pro-Russian Party of Regions (PRU), insists that President Viktor Yushchenko was aware that Ukraine supplied arms to Georgia illegally. The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) denied this and prevented the presentation in Kyiv of a Russian documentary that reflects Moscow’s interpretation of Ukraine’s role in the August Russian-Georgian conflict over South Ossetia, a point of view shared by the commission.

According to Moscow, Kyiv supplied arms to Georgia ahead of and during the conflict in violation of bilateral agreements and international laws. Kyiv does not deny that the supplies took place but insists that they were legal. Moscow also claims that there were Ukrainians fighting on Georgia’s side in the conflict. Kyiv denies this. The opposition, especially the PRU and the Communists, are inclined to believe Moscow. On September 2 the Ukrainian parliament set up an ad-hoc commission to look into the issue. The commission is dominated by the opposition, so its preliminary findings, reported at the end of September, were not surprising. They generally coincided with the Kremlin’s official line, but the focus was slightly different.

Konovalyuk, who visited South Ossetia in the wake of the war, said that he had evidence confirming the participation of Ukrainian nationalists in the conflict. Konovalyuk also claimed that Yushchenko personally coordinated arms trade with Georgia, that Kyiv had known about Georgia’s preparations for the war, and that offensive rather than defensive weapons were shipped to Georgia. At the same time, Konovalyuk’s focus was on the alleged damage from the arms trade to the Ukrainian army and the economy.

Konovalyuk said that arms were sold to Georgia at artificially low prices and to the detriment of Ukraine’s own military capability. According to Konovalyuk, certain weapons that the Ukrainian army was short of were supplied to Georgia rather than to Ukrainian army units. “We have found proof that we were arming a foreign state that, I am sure, was preparing for military aggression, while destroying our own defense capacities,” said Konovalyuk. He also suggested that a fire at the Ukrainian ammunition depot near Lozova at the end of August was arson masterminded in order to cover up the smuggling of arms to Georgia (www.liga.net, www.regnum.ru, September 26).

Konovalyuk said that most of the funds raised from the arms trade during the past few years, not only with Georgia, did not go into the state coffers. According to his calculations, Ukraine’s losses from arms supplies to Georgia amounted to some $100 million (Interfax-Ukraine, October 8). The Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the state arms trade company, Ukrspetsexport, flatly denied Konovalyuk’s conclusions. The National Security and Defense Council, a body chaired by Yushchenko, said that Konovalyuk’s commission had been set up “in order to use in domestic political fights the dangerous myth forged by Ukraine’s opponents about Ukraine’s involvement in the Russia-Georgia conflict” (Ukrainska Pravda, October 8).

Konovalyuk planned to show Ukrainian officials and journalists, as well as foreign diplomats, a Russian documentary about Ukraine’s alleged participation in the Georgia war. The five-star hotel in Kyiv where the documentary was to be shown on November 12 refused, however, to host the event after warnings from the SBU, according to Konovalyuk (Kommersant-Ukraine, November 13). The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry officially protested against the Russian Embassy’s involvement in organizing the showing of a documentary that, the Ministry said, “was fabricated by Russian special services.” In reply, the Russian Foreign Ministry accused Ukraine of “hiding the truth” about “Ukraine’s involvement in the events in South Ossetia” (Interfax-Ukraine, November 13).

Speaking in the Ukrainian parliament on November 13, Konovalyuk echoed Moscow’s accusations. “The actions by the SBU chief are aimed at covering up crimes in the sector of arms exports, the violations that the commission exposed, and the damage inflicted on our state, its defense capabilities, and security,” he said (Interfax-Ukraine, November 13). He also said that his commission wanted to summon Yushchenko to ask him questions about the arms supplies to Georgia (UNIAN, November 14).

Konovalyuk also alleged that the United States had helped Ukraine ship arms to Georgia. “Tanks were loaded for the first 15 days at the military airfield in Kyiv Region at night. The military air transport units of the United States and NATO were loading missile systems and tanks,” he claimed (UT1, November 14).

The SBU, after questioning Konovalyuk, said that it had completed its own investigation and found that his statements did not correspond to reality and that they had damaged Ukraine’s national interests. The SBU said that it had found no violations of either Ukrainian or international laws in the arms trade with Georgia (Ukrainska Pravda, November 17). Konovalyuk said that the PRU would insist that SBU chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko be summoned to parliament to report about the Security Service’s investigation (Channel 5, November 18).