Security Issues on Agenda For Commonwealth Talks
Three treaty drafts highlight contention among republics
RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin's finger will soon be on the nuclear button. But beyond that fact, little else is clear about the fate of the vast Soviet military machine as the Soviet Union turns into the loose Commonwealth of Independent States.The meeting Saturday of the leaders of the 11 former Soviet republics now constituting the commonwealth ultimately failed to settle some of the most pressing issues surrounding the future of this former superpower. "The most acute problems were the ones pertaining to the military issue, to the nuclear issue," Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk said in a television interview broadcast Sunday night. The agenda for the commonwealth meeting included approval of a collective security treaty defining the common military structures of the members and the division of Soviet military apparatus among them. Commonwealth leaders also had to settle the handling of nuclear weapons, their control, safety, and disarmament.Skip to next paragraph
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Unanswered questions But the gathering failed to agree on a security treaty, leaving that issue to be taken up again at another meeting of leaders in Minsk on Dec. 30. An agreement "On Joint Measures on Nuclear Arms" was signed by the four states with long-range nuclear weapons based on their territory - Russia, Kazakhstan, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. But even that document leaves some significant questions unanswered. The document states that nuclear weapons "are part of the unified strategic armed forces" and that until they are withdrawn from the Ukraine and Byelorussia, "decisions on the need to use them are taken, by agreement with the heads of the member states of the agreement, by the Russian president, on the basis of procedures drawn up jointly by the member states." But neither those "procedures" nor a joint policy on nuclear issues, have been decided yet. The mechanisms of control remain vaguely defined. "Until the nuclear weapons are destroyed, we pass over the control over the nuclear button to one president, Yeltsin," Mr. Kravchuk explained. "We don't run any risk because we are withdrawing nuclear weapons from our territory and the button will be blocked by me, [Byelorussian leader Stanislav] Shushkevich and [Kazakhstan President Nursultan] Nazarbayev." The Ukrainians are almost rushing to rid themselves of their weapons, responding to the message from the United States that this is a condition for their entry into the West. This led them to reverse an earlier stance opposing transfer of tactical nuclear warheads to Russia where facilities exist for their dismantling. Both Byelorussia and the Ukraine are committed to destroying all their long-range as well as tactical (short-range) nuclear weapons, the latter by July 1, 1992. "I talked to [US Secretary of State James] Baker about this," Kravchuk said. As for the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) based in 176 silos in the Ukraine, 130 are to be destroyed under the US-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and Kravchuk pledges to destroy the rest shortly.