THE United States has provided a written security guarantee to Ukraine that will remove a major stumbling block in the ratification of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) by this country's hesitant parliament, Ukraine's top arms negotiator says.
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk said he received the US written statement during discussions in Washington last week. The outline of the declaration by the United States, and possibly other nuclear powers, offers Ukraine protection against potential aggression once it fulfills its pledge to dispose of all 176 strategic nuclear missiles on its territory.
Although he would not reveal the details of the security guarantee document, Mr. Tarasyuk said it would most likely be presented in formal declaration by the heads of states of the leading nuclear powers, including neighboring Russia. It would provide security assurances against both nuclear and conventional attack on Ukraine, the second-largest former Soviet republic with 52 million people.
Tarasyuk told the Monitor in an exclusive interview that the US proposal should clear up doubts regarding ratification among many Ukrainian parliament members who have been reluctant to approve the treaty. Some have voiced concern about the country's security without a nuclear shield.
"I expect this will positively affect the ratification process in parliament," Tarasyuk said. Parliament is expected to reconvene on Jan. 18, although many deputies say the legislature probably will not begin discussing START until February.
Ukrainian ratification of START I is crucial to US efforts at nuclear arms reduction vis a vis the former Soviet nuclear powers - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Russia and Kazakhstan have already ratified START I. All four former Soviet nuclear states must ratify START I before the deeper arms cuts envisioned in the START II treaty can be implemented.
START II, signed by President Bush and Russian leader Boris Yeltsin earlier this month, would cut the US and Russian nuclear arsenals combined by more than 14,000 warheads. Ukrainian worries
Some Ukrainian legislators and government officials have expressed fears that once Ukraine gave up all its nuclear missiles it would be exposed to aggression from Russia.
In the past, Russian nationalists, including Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, have heightened concern among Ukrainians by making territorial claims against Ukraine, including agitating for the annulment of the 1954 protocol transferring the Crimean Peninsula from Russian to Ukrainian jurisdiction.
Members of the Ukrainian parliament have also linked ratification of the START I treaty and its Lisbon Protocol - a document signed last May by the US and the four former Soviet nuclear powers - to US willingness to cover most or all of the costs of disarmament.
Following a recent visit by US Sens. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia and Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, authors of an amendment committing $800 million to disarmament in the four former Soviet nuclear powers, the US offered $175 million for the removal and destruction of Ukrainian nuclear arms under START I.
Ukrainian leaders, including President Kravchuk, have voiced disappointment at the sum offered by the United States. They say the disarmament process requires $1.5 billion - something that would be an enormous strain on the country's economy, already devastated by the country's transition away from a communist command structure. US officials however have questioned that basis of that calculation of the cost.
"We didn't discuss the issue of funds," said Tarasyuk. "It's impossible to calculate how much it will cost. This we will see when we approach the time for executing the treaty and practically we will not be able to do it."
Despite the money matter, Tarasyuk expressed confidence that he could sell the US proposal on security guarantees to the Ukrainian legislature. Some legislators, however, said Tarasyuk may be overly optimistic. Conservative dissent
"More attention should be paid to the interests of Ukraine, rather than to what one person or another is saying," Alexander Tarasenko, a conservative member of the parliament's defense commission, told Reuters.
Tarasyuk said progress has also been made in talks with Russia and Britain on the issue of security guarantees, but he said he believed the Bush administration's new position would influence the other nuclear powers to join the document.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk failed to win unilateral security assurances from President Bush during a visit to Washington last May.
"The United States has finally seen our view and understood our concerns and fear of the potential threat from Russia," Tarasyuk said. "Finally, representatives of the [Bush] administration have understood the United States can't view the Ukraine through the prism of Russian-American relations."