Putin accuses Ukraine of aiding Georgia during war

October 4, 2008 - 0:0

NOVO-OGARYOVO (AP) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine on Thursday of sending weapons and military personnel to help Georgia during its war with Russia.

The accusation came as Russia announced a memorandum of understanding for handling natural gas sales to Ukraine after Putin met with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is locked in a political fight with her nation's pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko.
Without referring to Ukraine's president by name, Putin suggested Yushchenko authorized weapons supplies to Georgia before and during Russia's war there in August. He also alleged that Ukrainian military personnel fought on Georgia's side during the conflict.
""When people and military systems are used to kill Russian soldiers, it's a crime,"" Putin told reporters after meeting with Tymoshenko at his residence outside Moscow. ""Only a few years ago, it could not even come to mind, even in a nightmare, that Russians and Ukrainians would be fighting each other. But that happened, and it is a crime.""
Russian officials and some Ukrainian lawmakers have said Ukraine helped arm pro-Western Georgia before the war. The Russian military has said anti-aircraft missiles supplied by Ukraine shot down four Russian warplanes during the conflict.
Putin said arms sales may have continued after the war began, and he charged that some of the weapons were operated by Ukrainians during the fighting.
""The weapons could have been supplied during the military action, and it was operated by Ukrainian specialists,"" Putin said. ""That is a crime. That's an attempt to set Russian and Ukrainian people against each other.""
Tymoshenko, who is vying for power with Yushchenko, said a parliamentary panel in Ukraine would investigate allegations of arms sales. She said that under Ukrainian law, the president and his Security Council are in charge of arms sales abroad and her Cabinet has no say.
Russia's use of force in Georgia has deepened nervousness among many Ukrainians about their larger neighbor, whose leaders are vehemently opposing Yushchenko's efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO. The Kremlin has warned NATO against granting membership to Ukraine or Georgia.
Moscow could use the price for its natural gas as a bargaining chip in its effort to stem Ukraine's strengthening of ties with the West.
The gas cooperation memorandum signed Thursday leaves ample room for wrangling over prices in actual contracts. But Tymoshenko said she won a Russian commitment that prices would rise only gradually.
""The parties confirmed their desire to gradually move to free-market prices over the next three years,"" Tymoshenko said. ""We have reached an agreement that our countries don't need shock therapy.""
The dealings with Putin are something of a turnaround for Tymoshenko, who has strongly criticized Russia in the past.
She allied with Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution that propelled him to the presidency in 2004 over a pro-Russia candidate, and she said last year the West should thwart Moscow's ambition to regain influence over countries that were once part of its empire.
But Yushchenko and Tymoshenko have been feuding bitterly — the governing coalition of their political parties collapsed last month, raising the prospect of new elections — and she has increasingly talked about the need to improve ties with Russia.
""For Ukraine, Russia is an absolute strategic partner,"" Tymoshenko said as she sat down with Putin. ""We are very much interested in our relations being friendly and mutually beneficial.""