Prominent Ukrainian politicians and business tycoons from two rival camps have recently had a difficult time fending off allegations of shady arms deals. General Yevhen Marchuk, powerful secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, was the first to find himself under intensive fire over alleged arms sales to the Balkans. That attack was launched this past December in the media controlled by Andry Derkach, the son of former Security Service (SBU) chief Leonid Derkach (see the Monitor, January 8). Now it is time for the Derkachs and their ally, Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian media tycoon based in Israel, to ready their defenses.
The first blow came from a seemingly neutral side–Russian Communist MP Viktor Ilyukhin. On December 10, Ilyukhin, referring to Russian intelligence information, accused Rabinovich of having managed supplies of tanks and aircraft from Ukraine to Afghanistan in 1996. Ilyukhin alleged that Rabinovich was assisted by the SBU and the Derkachs. Rabinovich’s reaction was emotional and disparaging. He said that Ilyukhin was ill, accused him of anti-Semitism and threatened a lawsuit. Ilyukhin reportedly backtracked, saying that he wanted only to draw the Ukrainian authorities’ attention to the problem of terrorism. Rabinovich then filed a complaint against Ilyukhin with the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office. The prosecutors, however, refused to launch an inquiry into Ilyukhin’s allegations, citing absence of a relevant libel article in Ukraine’s new Criminal Code. Ukraine’s mainstream media seemed little interested in any of it.
But Germany’s Spiegel magazine did. In a January 6 article called “Weapons for Taliban?”, it not only quoted Ilyukhin’s allegations against Rabinovich, but also referred to Russian military experts saying that Ukrspetseksport, a Ukrainian state company authorized to trade in arms, cooperated with the SBU in supplying tanks to Taliban in the mid-1990s. Spiegel quoted the experts as saying that the Taliban had received up to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks. Asked to comment by the web site Ukrainska Pravda, Rabinovich denied everything and said that he had already sued Spiegel.
Rabinovich avoided directly answering Ukrainska Pravda’s question about who might be behind the allegations, but noted that web sites connected to Russian spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky were especially active in reporting them. Ukrainska Pravda hinted at the most prominent among those several Ukrainian parties that are reportedly assisted by Pavlovsky in the run-up to the March 31 parliamentary election–the United Social Democratic Party (USDP).
The USDP is competing head-to-head with Andry Derkach’s Labor Ukraine for both administrative resources and the left-of-center non-Communist electorate in the current parliamentary campaign. Tycoons from each side also compete in the economic arena and the media market.
Because Marchuk is a long-time USDP political ally, allegations tying him to illegal arms trade were a blow to the USDP as well. It seems logical to suggest, as Ukrainska Pravda did, that the USDP might now fire back. Rabinovich, who was reportedly denied entry into the United States and once, in 1999, even into Ukraine over his alleged links to international mafia, is an easy target. Accusations flying between the two camps may very possibly attract international attention (Ukrainska Pravda, December 10, January 10; Spiegel, January 6).
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