DESPITE reports of a cooling of the dispute over nuclear weapons between Ukraine and Russia, the summit meeting of the Commonwealth of Independent States today in the Ukrainian capital seems unlikely to reach the long-sought accord on a joint armed forces.
Rather than reaching agreement on joint military policy, the commonwealth members appear headed, in effect, toward "dividing up the military legacy of the USSR," as an editorial in the Red Star newspaper put it yesterday.
"The sooner we divide this Army, the better it will be," Gen. Geliy Batenin, senior military advisor to the Russian foreign minister told the Monitor.
The decree issued by Russian President Boris Yeltsin forming a defense ministry and moving toward creation of a separate army marks a de facto acceptance of the end of the military leadership's hopes of preserving a joint commonwealth army, he admitted.
But Russian officials acknowledge that there is almost no consensus about how this division should take place and that the fight threatens to undermine, if not halt, the implementation of key international arms control treaties. The fate of the 1990 treaty to cut conventional forces in Europe (CFE) seems particularly in doubt, officials admit.
And despite claims of agreement on the fate of nuclear weapons which would leave Russia as the sole nuclear weapons power of the former Soviet Union, General Batenin revealed to the Monitor that those agreements allow Ukraine and Kazakhstan to keep significant numbers of nuclear-tipped missiles (nuclear weapons are also based in Belarus).
And there are strong indications that both states intend to retain some weapons even after observing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with the US.
Batenin expressed confidence that the four republics possessing nuclear weapons would finally sign an agreement in Kiev to implement the START pact. That would set a timetable for the missiles and warheads to be destroyed in each republic to reach the treaty limits.
Under the treaty, the Soviet Union was to retain 154 out of 308 massive SS-18 missiles, each equipped with up to 10 powerful warheads.
According to Batenin, 108 of these missiles sit in silos in Kazakhstan and the majority will be left in place after the reduction.
In talks two weeks ago with the Kazakh ambassador in Moscow, the Kazakh government made clear that it has no plans to dismantle the remaining missiles, Batenin said. "The Kazakh ambassador said 'we are a nuclear weapons state,' " Batenin said. He also explained that Kazakhstan intends to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty only as a weapons state. The Russian proposal to the US for even more sharp reductions in nuclear arms, well beyond START levels, is aimed in part at eliminating the Kazakhstan-b ased missiles, Batenin said.
The Kazakhs intend to keep the missiles under common command with the Russians, but Batenin admits that "actually a unified command does not exist because there is no structure for the command to work within the framework of the commonwealth." Ultimately the only reassurance the Russian official offers is that the missiles will be at the end of their service life in 10 years, having been deployed 10-15 years ago. But such statements are unlikely to calm Western fears of proliferation of these weapons, fu eled most recently by unconfirmed reports, denied by officials here, of warheads from Kazakhstan being sold to Iran.
Ukraine is committed to becoming a nonnuclear power. But such pledges must be weighed against increasing Ukrainian unease over their powerful Russian neighbor, expressed last week in a decision by Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk to suspend removal of short-range tactical nuclear weapons to Russia for destruction. Though Russian President Yeltsin reportedly told Parliament Wednesday that Kravchuk had backed off on this, Ukraine has not confirmed this.
Batenin suggests the statement was "made on the eve of the Kiev meeting in order to show that Ukraine has its own nuclear weapons and still has political ambitions to deal with these weapons." He notes that while START requires destruction of the 130 SS-19 missiles based in Ukraine, it would not affect 46 more modern SS-24 missiles, which carry 10 warheads.
The general staff has prepared a number of major documents for the meeting, including specifying the powers of the commonwealth defense command, creating a single defense budget, establishing recruitment for an allied armed force and plans for arms manufacture and research and development. Col. Gen. Viktor Samsonov, the chief of the General Staff of the commonwealth armed forces, indicated he expected the same fate for these agreements as took place at last month's summit in Minsk, where not a single one
of some 40 prepared documents was adopted.
But increasingly the future of the commonwealth itself, the loose alliance of 11 former Soviet republics which replaced the Soviet Union, is in question. "Meeting after meeting without substantial results - it cannot last forever," says Andrei Kokoshin, deputy head of the USA-Canada Institute.