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Russia hits back in shipments row

From CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty


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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- A high-ranking Russian official has dismissed allegations by the United States that Russia is involved in illegal shipments of military equipment to Iraq as "completely baseless."

"There were absolutely no violations of the arms embargo," the official said Monday. The heads of two accused Russian companies have also denied any involvement.

The U.S. State Department Sunday protested to Moscow that Russian companies had sold sensitive military equipment to Iraq. (Full story)

The Washington Post identified two of the companies as Aviaconversiya, which allegedly supplied jamming equipment, and KBP Tula, an optics company.

But the Russian official countered the allegations, saying: "On numerous occasions Moscow gave a detailed account of all of this to the American government starting with October of last year.

"If you ask me why this news appeared lately, my only response would be that it's just to distract public attention from an illegitimate military operation by the United States government against Iraq and to distract attention from the fact that this war turned out not to be a picnic."

Oleg Antonov, Director of Moscow-based Aviaconversiya, told CNN that his company "has sold nothing to Iraq and has no representatives in Iraq."

Aviaconversiya, according to its Web site, produces jamming equipment which can suppress radio signals from global positioning systems. The U.S. military uses such systems in its planes and bombs.

Antonov said the issue was first raised by the United States last autumn, noting that several Russian agencies, including the FSB security service, had looked into it and found nothing. Antonov told CNN most of his equipment is sold to the United States.

The head of KBP Tula, Arkady Shipunov, also denied that his company had sold anything to Iraq.

A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman would not confirm the identities of the Russian companies accused of sales to Iraq, but told CNN that Washington regarded the issue of the alleged sales "as a very serious matter."

She said the U.S. had raised the matter with the Russian government "a number of times," including at senior levels and particularly over the past two weeks, but that the response had not been satisfactory.


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