Washington is concerned about Ukraine’s shipments of aircraft engines to China. Since Ukraine is obeying the letter of the international law, targeting Kiev in the ongoing war of sanctions cannot be officially justified, yet the US still feels betrayed. Washington might change its attitude toward Ukraine. Given the country’s dependence on America, Kiev is playing with fire.
China’s naval pilots use JL-10 trainers to hone their aircraft-carrier landing skills. According to the Washington Times, the aircraft are powered by engines supplied by Ukraine. The source reports, “Critics say the Trump administration should pressure Ukraine to halt the engine sales along with other military transfers to China.” William C. Triplett, a former counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, believes Ukraine is stabbing the US in the back. It should be noted that the military cooperation between Ukraine and China goes much further than just those aircraft engines that the Washington Times wrote about. Any American military technology that is shared with Ukraine will most certainly get into China’s hands. And that problem is bigger than just China.
To provide some context, let’s look back at the report on the North Korean missile program issued by a UN panel of experts in March that linked Ukraine to that program in Pyongyang. Those intercontinental ballistic missiles used engines (Soviet-era RD-250s) of Ukrainian origin. A New York Times report and other US sources also confirmed the story. According to Dmitry Kiku, a Ukrainian member of the UN team on N. Korean sanctions, Kiev has confirmed that it is very probable that Ukrainian-manufactured components are being used by North Korean ballistic-missile engineers.
In 2002, the US accused Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma of authorizing the illegal $100 million sale of four Kolchuga radar stations to Iraq in violation of UN sanctions. Last year, the international journalism organization known as the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) claimed that Ukraine was involved in a network that is illegally re-exporting arms from EU countries to Africa and the Middle East. That same year, the Amnesty International human-rights group issued a report on Ukrainian arms sales to South Sudan in violation of the United Nations embargo. All this can be added to the fact that Ukraine itself has become a supermarket for illegal weapons.
The US 2019 NDAA that was signed into law just a few days ago authorizes $250 million in security assistance for Ukraine. In April, Washington delivered Javelin antitank missile systems to Kiev. As one can plainly see, the United States continues to sell weapons to countries with dubious human-rights records that are involved in conflicts Americans know little about. The fact that the weapons might be used for other purposes than the ones they were supplied for or might end up in the wrong hands does not stop those deliveries. The New York Times has published an extensive report on corruption in the ranks of Ukraine’s military. The US had a painful experience in Iraq when the weapons it sent to the Iraqi military ended up in the hands of Islamic State terrorists. Hundreds of US, British, Canadian, and Lithuanian military instructors are training Ukrainian military personnel at the Yavorov firing range. Who knows how many of the trainees will turn up in Syria, Iraq, or somewhere else to fight Americans? Today, Islamic State militants are finding their way to Ukraine. They feel safe there.
In April, the US State Department published its annual report on human-rights practices in Ukraine. The paper mentions torture, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances, among other crimes committed by government security forces there. The report claims that such human-rights violations seem to have become somewhat routine occurrences. Media outlets are facing censorship and websites are routinely blocked. The perpetrators of violence against journalists go unpunished. The UN human-rights commissioner’s March report on Ukraine is filled with stories about human-rights abuses, violations of fundamental freedoms, and other crimes.
Nor can it be disregarded that Ukraine’s commitment to democracy is open to question, given the number of tycoons who hold power in that country. It is no secret that a kleptocracy flourishes there. The nation’s ruling elite make a mockery of the Western support that comes in, which is often pocketed. According to US State Department data, US foreign assistance contributed to Ukraine’s seizure of roughly $1.3 billion in cash, with the discovery of more than $3.24 billion in stolen public funds. Ukraine is the 130s least corruption nation out of 180 countries, according to the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. The country topped the 2017 fraud survey conducted at the direction of Ernst & Young.
Nationalist movements are a force to be reckoned with and they are gaining strength. Who knows where all this is heading?
That said, can Ukraine — a fragile state involved in an internal conflict with a dismal record of human-rights abuses and a high level of corruption — be considered a safe bet for US arms sales? Hardly. It’s really difficult to understand how military assistance to Kiev could enhance American national security, but it’s easy to see how it could undermine it.