THE other day US Ambassador Robert Strauss sat down with Ukrainian leader Leonid Kravchuk to settle what seemed a minor issue - finding a building for the recently opened US consulate in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. "His answer to me was, 'We're looking very soon for a building for our own embassy in Washington,'" Strauss recounted to a conference of American businessmen earlier this week.The straight-talking American envoy was irritated by the implied demand for recognition of Ukrainian independence. That feeling is shared in the Russian capital where the increasingly unbending Ukrainian drive for full independence is blocking even the initial attempts to create some form of unity among the republics of the Soviet Union. Examples of Ukrainian stubbornness are not hard to find. When representatives of the republics met for two days at the beginning of this week to discuss joint defense policy and the creation of a joint defense structure, only the Ukraine, and the three Baltic states, were absent. Mr. Kravchuk told reporters Saturday that the Ukraine insists on control of nuclear weapons based on its territory. Today, the leaders of the remaining 12 Soviet republics and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will hold a meeting of their joint State Council to discuss economic cooperation. A draft treaty to create an economic community is on the table, as well as a draft treaty of political union. More urgently, the Committee for Operational Management of the National Economy - the cumbersome title for the interim Soviet government - will present a draft agreement on food supplies for next year. This agreement forms a basis for Soviet requests for emergency food aid from the West and Japan, providing concrete data on the amounts needed of each commodity and how these will be distributed throughout the union. It also specifies the contribution of each republic to an inter-republican food fund. The food agreement has been drawn up assuming that the Ukraine, the second largest grain producer in the Soviet Union, will participate. But committee chief Ivan Silayev admitted the Ukrainians have not yet signed on. According to the Interfax news agency, the Ukrainians say they will not sign until the economic union treaty is concluded. But when it comes to that key economic document, the Ukrainian attitude is also far from clear. Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin was present at the meeting in Alma-Ata, capital of Kazakh- stan, Oct. 1 when the newest draft was discussed, and signed a statement of intent to conclude the treaty. That act drew fire in the Ukrainian parliament where nationalist forces led by the Rukh popular movement increasingly hold sway. And when Kravchuk returned Oct. 5 from a long trip to the United States, Canada, and France, he said nothing about such an economic union. He referred only to the need for economic treaties between the independent republics. "As for political union, I am against it," Kravchuk told reporters at a press conference in Kiev. "It can only be in a form which does not deprive the Ukraine of a single drop of its statehood." Kravchuk's attitude, and that of his government, have much to do with the referendum on Ukrainian independence scheduled for Dec. 1 and a simultaneous election for the new post of president. Kravchuk faces a field led by Rukh candidate Vyacheslav Chernovil. Until that vote is taken, Ukrainians are unlikely to make any substantial moves to join even loose union structures. Kravchuk returned from his visit abroad proclaiming that the US, Canada, and France were ready to recognize Ukrainian independence after the December vote. When he met with visiting US Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan Tuesday, Kravchuk said the Ukrainians want no part of a package of American agricultural credits to the Soviet Union. According to an Interfax report, he told Mr. Madigan if that happened, the Ukraine "would automatically become a debtor" and "would not know what share of the food aid i t would receive." "He expects the Ukraine to become a sovereign state and wants to have direct economic ties with the US and other nations of the world," Madigan told reporters at a press conference concluding his Soviet visit Wednesday. When President Bush met Kravchuk in Washington, Madigan continued, the US leader expressed a willingness to have some direct ties such as providing Export-Import Bank credits or sending Peace Corp volunteers. "But, on the question of independence, that is an internal union matter in which the US will not take sides," Madigan said.