Russian technicians are helping Iraq jam satellite signals that guide bombs and military aircraft even as U.S., British and Australian troops advance on Baghdad, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.
The official said Washington had evidence that personnel from a Russian firm were in Iraq attempting to help set up and operate a system that interferes with U.S. global positioning technology.
“The system is complex, and there is evidence that [Russian technicians] have been trying to bring this system online and help the Iraqis operate it,” the official told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“We are extremely upset and have raised this at very senior levels with the Russians,” the official said.
The official said there was no indication that the Russian government was involved, but said Moscow had been “extremely unhelpful” in addressing U.S. concerns.
The official said Washington had confronted the Moscow-based Aviaconversiya firm with accusations that it had sold the system and sent personnel to Iraq, and had been met with denials.
The firm again denied the accusations yesterday, although it has said Baghdad had been interested in acquiring the goods.
“They are just making this up,” said Oleg Antonov, the director of Aviaconversiya. “Let them capture one of our personnel.
“They won’t find any of our technicians in Iraq,” he told AFP in Moscow. “The Americans are trying to find a scapegoat because their bombs are not falling as accurately as they want.”
The senior U.S. official said however that U.S. intelligence had been able to match an electronic signal emitted by the system in Iraq to the system sold by the Russian firm.
“It emits a signal that is specific to the equipment of this Aviaconversiya company, and our intelligence people have been able to identify it,” the official said.
The official confirmed a report in The Washington Post that said complaints about the sales of jamming devices by the firm had begun in June 2002.
At the time, however, the official said the Russians denied the company even existed despite the fact that it maintained an Internet site and was the subject of extensive media coverage in Russia.
“It was ridiculous, but now it’s gone beyond that,” the official said.
Washington also has protested transactions by two other Russian firms, one of which has sold anti-tank missiles and another that sold thousands of night-vision goggles to Iraq, the official said.
Protests about the Aviaconversiya sales and assistance to Iraq intensified earlier this month when Russian Ambassador Yuri Ushakov was summoned to the State Department, the senior official said.
“Their response so far has not been satisfactory,” said Brenda Greenberg, a State Department spokeswoman. “We hope that the responsible Russian agencies will take our concerns seriously.”
The official said the last complaint was made Saturday to the Russian Foreign Ministry.