WHEN Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk visits the United States May 6, he will seek security guarantees from NATO in return for Ukraine's nuclear disarmament, he said at a news conference this week.
Ukraine's nuclear disarmament "will lead to a radical drop in our national security made all the more acute by conditions of instability and territorial claims by our neighbors, including Russia," he said, referring to recent statements by some Russian leaders, including Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, claiming Ukraine should return the Crimea region to Russia.
The Ukrainian leader repeated assurances that Ukraine would stick to its pledge of ridding itself of all nuclear weapons by 1995 and announced that a breakthrough had been reached this week among the four nuclear powers of the Commonwealth of Independent States toward ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). The foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan were due to sign a protocol with the US as four equal signatories allowing verification of START by their legisla tures, he said.
President Kravchuk said on Tuesday he was disappointed by the negative US reaction to his March 12 announcement suspending removal of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia pending an agreement on joint control over their destruction.
He added, however, that President Bush and Congress had agreed to offer Ukraine an aid package worth $50 million in coming months with an additional $90 million by the end of 1992 in government-to-government assistance for free-market reform and democratization.
Jon Gunderson, the US charge d'affaires in Kiev, announced at a news conference Tuesday that Kravchuk and President Bush would sign an agreement offering Ukraine most-favored-nation trade status with the US at a scheduled White House meeting on May 6.
Like most Ukrainians, Kravchuk says he believes his country has been overshadowed in relations with the West by its giant neighbor to the north, Russia, and its maverick president, Boris Yeltsin. But "relations with the US are of crucial importance to us," he said.
"There is a perception here in Ukraine that the US is taking a 'little-brother/big-brother' approach toward Ukraine and Russia, especially on the issue of aid," Mr. Gunderson said.
"The US, however, regards Ukraine as a bilateral partner, not in relation to any other country. Just by the fact that over half the US Congress has visited Ukraine over the last few months, shows the US sees Ukraine as a major player in Europe," he said.
"Kravchuk really wants Ukraine to be taken seriously," said a Western diplomat in Kiev. "But he's lost a lot of credibility by flip-flopping ... on important issues such as nuclear weapons and free-market reform."
"This visit should change the nature of the relationship between the US and Ukraine," Kravchuk said. "Until now the US viewed Ukraine through the prism of American policy toward Russia. Now there is a noticeable change. Ukraine is now perceived as a young democratic country." The silver-haired former Communist and his delegation will spend six days meeting US officials and business leaders across the country.
He will be the first leader of an independent Ukraine to ever pay an official state visit to the US, marking a significant moment for the fledgling state of 52 million people on Europe's eastern edge.