U.S. official accuses Ukraine of lying about 2008 arms shipments to Sudan

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Dec. 10, 2010, 12:46 a.m. |

A Soviet made T-72 tank is offloaded from the MV Faina ship at the port of Mombasa, Kenya on Feb. 14, 2009. The crew of a Ukrainian ship MV Faina, captured by Somali pirates, were welcomed home as heroes the day before after being held hostage for 19 weeks. The ship’s cargo of 33 Soviet-era T-72 tanks and 14,000 rounds of ammunition was offloaded in Kenya. While Ukraine and Kenya said the shipment was for Kenyan armed forces, U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that that final destination was the government of South Sudan, in possible violation of international sanctions imposed because of a genocidal civil war there.
© (AFP)

The U.S. had satellite imagery that proved Ukraine lied about shipping arms to southern Sudan, according to a U.S. State Department cable published Dec. 8 by WikiLeaks. Arms exports to war-torn Sudan are carefully watched, and under UN embargo to the Darfur region, the scene of alleged genocide.

Sudan is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, which bans arms sales to the country. Southern Sudan is largely autonomous from the north since a 2005 peace agreement ended a 50-year war.

Two Ukrainian arms shipments were made in 2008 to Kenya, but the final destination of the weapons, which included Soviet-era tanks and other weapons, was the government in southern Sudan, according to the cable.

The account of meetings between Vann H. Van Diepen, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, and senior Ukrainian officials in November 2009 also detail how American diplomats raised concerns that Ukraine:
  1. intended to sell missile systems to Saudi Arabia capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction;
  2. continued to exports parts, albeit in reduced quantities and not completed weapons, to the military dictatorship in Myanmar;
  3. was not intervening in the sale by Ukrainian entities of specialty metals for Iran’s ballistic missiles.
Kyiv’s export of arms hit the headlines when M/V Faina, a boat carrying a shipment of 33 Ukrainian T-72 tanks, as well as grenade launchers, armored vehicles and small arms, was captured by Somali pirates in September 2008 en route to Kenya.

According to the account of the meeting in the cable, Ukraine claimed the weapons on board this and an earlier shipment were destined for Kenya, but Van Diepen produced a copy of a contract that showed the arms were destined for southern Sudan.

The Ukrainian side “held to this line, questioned the authenticity of the contract, and asked if the U.S. had any better evidence,” whereupon Van Diepen “showed the Ukrainians satellite imagery of T-72 tanks unloaded in Kenya, transferred to rail yards for onward shipment, and finally in South Sudan.”

“This led to a commotion on the Ukrainian side,” the author of the cable noted laconically. Ukrainian officials claimed they couldn’t be held responsible for the actions of Kenya.

Van Diepen reminded the Ukrainians that Sudan was on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror and rebuked the Ukrainian side for lying. He added that the U.S. “would have to consider whether to impose sanctions for the tank transfer, and that a factor in U.S. deliberations would be whether the [government of Ukraine] was being truthful.”

Speaking to Kommersant daily newspaper, Serhiy Bondarchuk, the former head of Ukrspetsexport, a state-owned company specializing in weapons-trade, who was present at the meeting, confirmed that the conversation did take place.

Bondarchuk noted, however, that Ukrainian officials requested that their counterparts provide them with the satellite images to confirm their authenticity, which the U.S. side refused to do.
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