ON the final stop of his official visit to the republics of the Soviet Union, United States Secretary of State James Baker III indicated American readiness to grant diplomatic recognition to the Ukraine.Mr. Baker won assurances from Ukrainian leaders that the former Soviet republic would emerge as a new, non-nuclear, democratic state. "Ukraine is at the forefront of those republics that are embracing those principles and values we've outlined: democracy, free markets, and nuclear safety," Baker told reporters after a two-hour meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and other leaders here in the Ukrainian capital. Although he offered no timetable for recognition, Baker said he was "satisfied with what we've heard concerning Ukraine's committment" to democratic and market-oriented reforms and to the security and eventual elimination of all nuclear weapons based in the Ukraine. The second most populous and economically important republic in the Soviet Union after the Russian Federation, the Ukraine has been recognized by all of its neighbors since its overwhelming 90 percent vote for independence in a Dec. 1 plebiscite. Ukrainian leaders proudly assert that the vote for independence was critical to the demise of the Soviet Union and the formation of what they view as a new, loose, temporary association, the Commonwealth of Independent States. Many feel that US recognition of Russia and the Ukraine as independent states will place the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union.
Officials look west Ukrainian officials do not conceal their view that the Ukraine's future lies with the West, not with the Soviet Union. "We look upon this commonwealth as a temporary arrangement for the transitional period," says Dmytro Pavlychko, chairman of the Ukrainian legislature's foreign affairs commission. "Our goal is to develop trade links with the West and integrate into Europe. As the military and economic links gradually dissolve, so will the need for this commonwealth." Ukrainian officials were eager to ease US concerns about Soviet nuclear weapons based on their soil. President Kravchuk, talking to reporters after the meeting with Baker, pledged that the Ukraine "has every intention to abide by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty," which mutually cuts US and Soviet long-range nuclear weapons. Ukrainian officials say 176 silos with multiple warhead intercontinental missiles are based in the Ukraine. Kravchuk reiterated the Ukrainian agreement to "a single united control" of all the Soviet nuclear weapons. But he also continued to insist that the weapons be destroyed on Ukrainian territory rather than removed to Russia, which presently has the only facilities for disarming nuclear warheads. He said he had requested US aid and expertise, including teams of experts to travel here to help the Ukraine "take the initiative" and unilaterally begin dismantling all the nuclear weapons, strategic and tactical , on its territory. "We want to set an example of how quickly these weapons can be destroyed, but we need technical and financial assistance," said Kravchuk.
Eliminating nuclear weapons "Our greatest dream is that not a single missile silo or warhead remain in the Ukraine by the year 2000," said the silver-haired Ukrainian leader during the brief press conference in Kiev's ornate Mariinsky Palace, where the talks took place. Kravchuk said the Ukraine's position regarding nuclear weapons remained unchanged in light of Russian President Boris Yeltsin's announcement earlier in the week that Russia would remain a nuclear power. "We will not be determined by Russian events," he said. "We will continue to pursue our path as quickly as possible to destroy the nuclear weapons in the Ukraine. Today I told the secretary of state that if somebody aspires to single control of nuclear weapons, we can hand over this control on one condition: that all of the nuclear forces in the Ukraine are taken off alert." "We want the Americans to understand the presence of these missiles and weapons in the Ukraine is just temporary," said Vasyl Durdynets, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's commission on defense and security, several hours before the Baker delegation arrived in Kiev. "We must do everything possible politically to ensure that from the territory of the Ukraine not a single missile will be launched. We treat these issues with great responsibility. One Chernobyl disaster was enough for us," said the parliament official, a chief author of the Ukraine's new defense laws. Kravchuk told the press Dec. 18 that the decree he issued last week appointing himself commander in chief of the armed forces in the Ukraine "did not deviate" from the Ukraine's position on nuclear forces because it explicitly excluded those forces from the formation of a Ukrainian national army based on Soviet conventional forces located in the Ukraine. The Ukrainian leader assured Baker that the Ukraine would join the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe and abide by its reduction requirements. It also would seek US assistance for conversion of its large defense industry into production of consumer goods. The Ukraine is looking to the US for economic assistance as well. Ukrainian senior officials requested humanitarian aid, primarily for the victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, and US support for the Ukraine's bid to join the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Teams of experts from the IMF have visited the Ukraine - which provided a quarter of the Soviet Union's agricultural production - to provide advice on banking and monetary reforms.