THE United States and Europe, each in their own way, are setting down markers for their acceptance of the Ukraine as Europe's newest independent nation.All agree that the Ukraine must demonstrate its good faith on international arms control agreements, human rights, and reform toward a market economy. But the approaches part company over the timing of formal diplomatic recognition of the republic, whose population voted overwhelmingly Sunday to secede from the Soviet Union. The US has dangled the carrot of imminent recognition in front of the Ukraine in an effort to shape events to the US's liking. European nations have also stated what they expect of the Ukraine, but are demonstrating much more reserve when it comes to recognition. A ranking Bush administration official on European affairs suggests that the European Community's inability to help solve Yugoslavia's crisis has given the EC cold feet about getting involved in the breakup of another country, the Soviet Union. In addition, the official says, "some of the thinking is based on historical worries about what happens when an empire breaks up," especially in close geographical proximity. And where the EC is concerned, because 12 countries must come together on a policy, there's a tendency toward "least-common-denominator decisionmaking," which results in a fairly moderate position, he says. Several countries, including Canada, Hungary, and Poland, have already recognized the Ukraine, as has the Russian Republic. Those that neighbor the Ukraine have explicitly recognized the current borders, addressing concerns that old territorial questions may be revisited now that the Ukraine has declared independence. Meanwhile, the US-European military alliance, NATO, reasserted the need for assurances from the Ukraine that the Soviet nuclear weapons on its territory will remain under a unified Soviet command. The Ukraine has 176 ballistic missiles and one-third of the Soviet Union's tactical nuclear weapons. After Tuesday's NATO meeting, Secretary-General Manfred Woerner stated four points NATO was asking the Ukraine to adhere to: * Settle its relationship with the central Soviet government and with the Soviet republics peacefully. * Comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. * Comply with arms control treaties signed by the Soviet Union. * Carry out other international accords to which the Soviet Union is a signatory, including the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. That requires, among other things, a respect for the human rights of resident minorities. The Ukraine's president-elect, Leonid Kravchuk, has stated that Soviet nuclear weapons will fall under the collective control of the four republics that house them: the Ukraine, Russia, Byelorussia, and Kazakhstan. He also promised that the Ukraine will comply with all international treaties signed by the Soviet Union, including the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty. But it remains unclear whether the West will ask the Ukraine to sign those accords. This week a senior US diplomat, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Thomas Niles, will visit the Ukraine for discussions with leaders about this and the other areas of US concern. Secretary of State James Baker III will follow in mid-December with visits to both Moscow and Kiev, with a stop afterwards in Brussels Dec. 19 for a meeting of the NATO foreign ministers. In Kiev, Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko made special note of the fact that President Bush's congratulatory phone call to Mr. Kravchuk on Tuesday was the first from any Western leader. Ukrainian-American leaders say Washington's leading role in welcoming the Ukraine into the free world is in part an attempt to make up for its delay in fully recognizing the three Baltic nations after the Soviet coup attempt in August. But administration officials say the political dynamic in Moscow has changed greatly since then, and thus the two situations cannot be compared. Right after the coup, Moscow continued to function fully as the central government of the Soviet Union. Now, with many of the republics taking their affairs into their own hands, and with the Russian Republic controlling the nation's purse strings, the notion of Moscow as a central coordinating point is vanishing. Before, the Bush administration's impulse was to favor the center. Now, it realizes the old Soviet Union no longer exists, and the center is gone. Its aim is to shape developments as much to its liking as it can.