KIEV Washington still has not received answers to a series of questions posed during a recent visit by U.S. and British inspectors seeking to determine whether Kiev had sold a high-tech radar system to Iraq, a leading U.S. official said.
“From a practical point of view, we can’t await forever,” U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual told students at Kiev’s European University late last week. “That’s why we can only make the assumption that the Kolchuga is [in Iraq] and we should act accordingly, in the best interests of the American and British sides.”
In a strongly worded speech, Mr. Pascual also said Ukraine risks falling behind in Euro-Atlantic integration and faced international isolation if it doesn’t implement democratic reforms, such as freedom of the press and taxation policies.
“As Ukraine’s neighbors to the west aggressively tackled political and economic reforms, at best Ukraine has stood still. Some would argue Ukraine has moved backwards,” he said.
A team of 13 U.S. and British inspectors posed the questions to Ukrainian authorities after an October visit to sites where the Kolchuga system was manufactured and assembled.
Although Kiev had promised transparency, in a report made public last month the team said it had not received sufficient answers to questions, including those dealing with contracts.
The Kolchuga affair surfaced earlier this year when Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma reportedly was heard giving the go-ahead for the $100 million sale of the system on tapes secretly recorded in 2000 by a former bodyguard.
“Whatever the eventual resolution to the Kolchuga issue, the main challenge [in U.S.-Ukrainian relations] will be to re-establish the trust that is essential to building and sustaining any meaningful long-term relationship,” Mr. Pascual said.
He said the doors to the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship remained open.
The Ukrainian government’s relations with the opposition parties worsened, meanwhile, with the parliament expected to vote as early as today on the proposed ouster of Volodymyr Stelmakh, the head of Ukraine’s central bank.
An attempt to vote on the matter Thursday turned into fistfights before the opposition forces succeeded in blocking the vote.
Opposition forces said the attempt to replace the bank chief with a politician sympathetic to the president would give Mr. Kuchma control over the last independent instrument of power.
Under law, the central bank is an independent institution.
“There hasn’t been such a precedent in any country of the world,” said Victor Yushchenko, a popular former prime minister who is credited with establishing financial stability as head of the central bank in the early 1990s.
“The central bank is not a political institution,” he said.
Opposition forces said they fear pro-presidential forces will use the central bank to increase the money supply, increasing inflation and flattening an already-slow economy.
Mr. Kuchma already exercises such control of government that he was able to ensure the victory of a new prime minister, Victor Yanukovych, the former governor of the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk region, which is rich in mineral resources.
In an interview with The Washington Times last year, Mr. Yanukovych said he had no national political ambitions. He is, however, seen as loyal to the president and is considered a contender to succeed Mr. Kuchma in 2004.
Kuchma supporters had their best performance during March parliamentary elections in the Donetsk region, where press freedom is questionable and businessmen largely rely on local authorities to move projects forward.
Opposition leaders fear that Mr. Yanukovych may try to run Ukraine on the same model.