Arms Treaty Hinges on Ukraine

Pressured by nationalists, officials lay out new conditions for ratifying nuclear arms pact

RUSSIA and the United States may have reached an historic START II treaty, but it is a mere scrap of paper without the assent of Ukraine.

Ukraine's foot-dragging on carrying out its pledge to get rid of nuclear arms inherited from the Soviet Union now imperils the entire arms control process. Ukrainian officials continue to raise new conditions for ratifying the START I agreement, without which the follow-up arms deal cannot take effect.

The former Soviet Army's strategic nuclear weapons are located in four former republics: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Russia has long insisted that it should be the sole inheritor of the Soviet Union's status as a nuclear-weapons power.

Under a special provision added to START I this past year, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan agreed to renounce their weapons, join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as nonnuclear states, and transfer their weapons to Russia to be dismantled. In a legally binding letter, the three states committed to eliminate all the strategic nuclear weapons on their soil within the seven-year period of the START I treaty. So far, only Russia and Kazakhstan have ratified START I.

Both in public statements and in a recent phone conversation with US President Bush, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk has reiterated his intention to ratify the treaty. But powerful nationalist forces in the Ukrainian parliament and government have objected, expressing concern about a future in which only Russia will possess nuclear arms. Some have even advocated keeping Ukraine's nuclear arsenal.

Ukrainian officials this week laid out several new conditions that they want met before ratification takes place. Konstantin Krishchenko, head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's department on arms control, told a Dec. 29 Moscow press conference that the START I treaty does not fully reflect Ukraine's interests.

Specifically, he said Ukraine would like to receive security guarantees before signing. The Ukrainians also demand the right to use the components of the nuclear weapons - the plutonium and highly enriched uranium - either for their nuclear power stations or to sell, as Russia is doing.

Ukraine also seeks from Russia technical control of the weapons on its soil so that they cannot be launched without the consent of Ukraine's leadership. In a recent interview, President Kravchuk said that he did not possess the means to launch the missiles, which remain under central control of the former Soviet, now Russian, Army. But he did claim to be able to block their launch.

Finally, the United States has recently offered $175 million to help pay for removing and destroying the nuclear weapons from an $800 million fund for the entire former Soviet Union, but Ukraine now asks for $1.5 billion.

US officials at the Moscow summit say that the US has given Ukraine a document with "certain assurances that we can give" regarding Ukrainian security.

"We hope that the Ukrainian parliament will take action very, very quickly," a senior administration official told reporters.

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