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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ukraine Illegally Sells Tanks to Georgia

Ukraine has been illegally selling arms to Georgia amid escalating tensions between the South Caucasus republic and Russia, Ukraine’s Communist party leader quoted by RIA Novosti said Tuesday.

“Ukraine has already delivered 40 tanks to Georgia,” Petro Symonenko said.

Symonenko said Kiev is facing the risk of having sanctions imposed on it by the international community for illegally supplying arms to warring sides.

However Ukraine’s Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko asked Symonenko to fulfil his deputy’s duties instead of “going into hysterics”.

“Ukraine, in particular [state arms trader] Ukrspetseksport, indeed sold 16 tanks to Georgia last year. This is open information. It is clear to everyone. The UN has never questioned Ukraine about this. By doing so, we have fulfilled our duties and breached not a single law. The Communists should calm down. They should better take care of passing the state budget for 2007 rather than making noise in the media,” he told Ukrainian Inter TV channel.

Georgian President Saakashvili has pledged to restore Tbilisi’s control over the self-proclaimed republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. His defense minister has also said Georgian troops will celebrate New Year’s day in the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.

On October 13, the UN Security Council unanimously approved a Russian-sponsored draft resolution on Georgia urging the ex-Soviet country to refrain from provocative actions in Abkhazia, and calling for an extension of the Russian peacekeeping mission in the region until April 15, 2007.

Russia retains a peacekeeping presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which gained de facto independence following bloody conflicts after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia’s leadership, which is currently embroiled in a spying row with Russia, accuses the Kremlin of supporting the breakaway regions’ drive for full independence.

Georgia’s relations with Russia went sour after President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of the “Rose Revolution” in 2003. Both the government and parliament have sought to remove Russian peacekeepers from conflict zones with two self-proclaimed republics, and to force the withdrawal of Russian troops from two Soviet-era bases that are due to close in 2008.

Relations were further strained in September of this year after NATO ministers, meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, endorsed the so-called Intensified
Dialogue with Georgia. Russia’s Foreign Ministry denounced the decision, saying closer ties between the alliance and the ex-Soviet nation could “seriously affect the political, military and economic interests of Russia and undermine the fragile status quo in the Caucasus.”

The arrest in Georgia of four Russian army officers on espionage charges a week later sent relations to a new low, prompting Moscow to suspend transportation and postal links with its Caucasus neighbor and to expel hundreds of Georgian migrants, regardless of Georgia releasing the officers, RIA Novosti adds.
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