Western concern over arming troops puts Ukraine under pressure

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There was an unfamiliar face at the negotiating table in Macedonia's peace talks yesterday: the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Anatoliy Zlenko.

When Javier Solana, the EU's security affairs chief, flew in to chivvy the talks along yesterday, he had Mr Zlenko with him. Ukraine is coming under intense pressure from the West to halt arms sales to Macedonia – so intense that Mr Zlenko had to be flown into have his arm twisted.

Yet only a month ago, arming the Macedonians was still Western policy. Earlier this year, the British Army made a formal offer to train Macedonian soldiers – an offer that was politely refused.

Now it seems the international community has realised that arming the Macedonians could mean arming one side in a potential civil war. Sukhoi fighter jets supplied by Ukraine regularly scream over Skopje. Ukraine has also supplied helicopter gunships that have been used to attack rebel positions – and on one occasion accidentally killed several Albanian civilians sheltering in a basement, including three young children.

When the crisis began, the Macedonian air force consisted of four helicopters – one of which crashed into a ski resort in the first few weeks. Macedonia's ill-equipped army has been no match for the rebels on the ground, but it has been steadily arming itself.

Macedonia has few resources. Funds are believed to have come from the sell-off of Macedonian Telecom, which brought in 750 million German marks. The Macedonian government is also said to have sold Ukraine some of its Russian debt to pay for armaments.

While Ukraine has been open about its sales, there are rumours of other countries supplying arms secretly, and stories of gun shipments arriving at customs listed as "ice-cream".