KIEV, Ukraine -- Several hundred decommissioned Soviet-built surface-to-air missiles are unaccounted for in Ukraine's military arsenal, the defense minister told a newspaper. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, in an interview published in the newspaper Den, appeared to suggest the missiles may have been dismantled without proper accounting, rather than stolen or sold.
"We are looking for several hundred missiles," Marchuk was quoted as saying in Thursday's edition. "They have already been decommissioned, but we cannot find them".
Marchuk didn't specify the types of missile. Defense Ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivrenko told The Associated Press that he was referring to S-75 air defense missiles -- also known in the West by the code-name SA-2.
Marchuk said the Defense Ministry hadn't observed the accounting requirements established by law until last summer, an apparent jab at his predecessors.
Hundreds of such missiles from Soviet arsenals in Warsaw Pact member countries had been brought to Ukraine for dismantling but were lost due to "accounting problems," Khivrenko said.
He said the absence of records documenting what happened to the missiles was "strange," and added that an investigation was under way.
The missiles entered service with the Soviet air defense troops in 1957. Able to shoot down targets at altitudes up to 12 1/2 miles, they have been sold to a large number of nations around the world.
It was the same type of missile that brought down a U.S. U-2 spy plane over the Ural Mountains in 1960. Its pilot, Francis Gary Powers, bailed out safely, but was captured, convicted as a spy, and held for almost two years until being traded for a KGB agent.
The S-75s played a prominent role in the Vietnam war, Mideast conflicts, and, most recently, were used in wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq.
Marchuk blamed his predecessors for not observing proper accounting standards while dealing with the missiles and other weapons.
"They say they were destroyed. OK, destroyed," Marchuk said. "Every such missile has gold, silver, platinum metals. Where are the results of their destruction?"
Marchuk said that when he became minister, "no one knew what the armed forces had," and after nine months in the job he still doesn't have precise information.
He said that inventories of military equipment had revealed a gaping hole equivalent to some $189 billion. In comparison, Ukraine's entire budget last year was less than $10 billion.
Ukraine inherited a vast arsenal with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, including dozens of intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers and a wide array of other weapons. It shipped all its nuclear weapons to Russia in the early 1990s.
Marchuk's statement drew renewed attention to numerous reports of military equipment leaking out of Ukraine amid the post-Soviet turmoil.
In 2002, the United States claimed Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had sanctioned the sale of a sophisticated military radar to Iraq. The allegation, which Kuchma denies, badly strained relations between Washington and Kiev.