UKRAINE'S parliament has rendered a decision on nuclear disarmament that is, for this legislature formed at the close of the Soviet era, typically muddled.
At the urging of the government of President Leonid Kravchuk, the parliament last Thursday evening approved a tripartite agreement signed in Moscow last month by the presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States aimed at the full disarmament of this former Soviet republic. The resolution passed by the Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Assembly) removes conditions it placed last November on ratification of the START I arms treaty.
But the Ukrainian parliament put off action on the key second step called for by the tripartite deal - ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), fully committing Kiev to getting rid of the 1,800 nuclear warheads on its soil. The Rada amended START I to include the Lisbon Protocol, which calls for Ukraine to join NPT as soon as possible. But deputies left actual ratification to a new legislature due to be elected on March 27.
By leaving the nuclear door partly open, Ukraine left its tripartite partners less than fully happy.
Russian diplomatic sources welcomed the ratification of START I but described the overall decision as a ``half measure.'' Moscow is sending a high-level delegation to Ukraine tomorrow to discuss implementation of the agreement, including setting schedules for dismantling and withdrawal of weapons and establishing guarantees of safety conditions at the silos and warhead storage sites.
`A step forward'
For Washington, the nuclear glass was half full, not half empty. ``It is an entirely unambiguous step forward,'' commented a Western diplomat here. White House spokeswoman Dee Dee Myers described the parliament decision as a commitment ``to accede to the NPT in the shortest possible time.''
US participation in the disarmament talks was crucial to easing fears of Russian domination and pressure tactics, Ukrainian officials say. And in the parliamentary debate, Ukrainian government leaders held out the prospect of a vast expansion in US economic aid as an incentive for approving the trilateral pact.
A Ukrainian economic delegation came back from the US last week with evidence that ``a radical turn in the US attitude toward Ukraine has been made,'' President Kravchuk said. The Ukrainian leader told deputies he had just received a letter from President Clinton promising a doubling of US economic aid, which last year was $155 million.
According to presidential aide Anton Buteiko, who participated in the delegation to Washington, the Ukrainians were told ``that in US policy, 1993 was the year of Russia, but they expected 1994 to be the year of Ukraine.''
Last Nov. 18, the Ukrainian parliament delivered a rebuke to Kravchuk by attaching a long list of conditions for ratification of the START I treaty, a long-awaited first step in fulfilling Ukraine's pledge to become a non-nuclear state. The conditions centered on three main issues:
* The demand for a guarantee of Ukraine's security, principally aimed at concerns of renewed Russian neo-imperialism.
* Financial compensation for the value of the nuclear materials on Ukraine's soil.
* Financial aid for the expensive process of dismantling and disarming the weapons.
``The trilateral agreement was largely shaped by the Rada conditions,'' explains a Western diplomat here. The deal provides $1 billion in compensation for the nuclear fuel, aid for disarmament, and a guarantee of Ukraine's sovereignty to be signed by the US, Russia, Britain, and France. That security commitment will not be made, however, until Ukraine ratifies the NPT.
The agreement has come under fire on a number of points. Regarding the compensation, ``We are selling our property practically for free,'' says Vyacheslav Chornovil, head of the nationalist opposition Rukh movement.
Ten month deadline
Ihor Derkatch, a member of the Rada's defense committee, is opposed to the time frame for dismantling the weapons, particularly the provision for `deactivating'' the 460 warheads mounted on 46 more-modern SS-24 missiles within 10 months. Given Russia's instability, he says, ``I think that is not in the interests of Ukraine and the whole of Eastern Europe to immediately withdraw all the weapons.''
Environment Minister Yuri Kostenko goes further, saying the weapons constitute a ``military deterrent'' against Russian imperial pressures, particularly in the absence of a strong economy or political stability in Ukraine. He compares Ukraine's weakness under Russian pressure to the recent example of Georgia agreeing to close economic and military union with Russia.
Ukrainian officials retort that the weapons are not a real military deterrent. ``The nuclear weapons deployed in Ukraine are not operationally controlled by Ukraine itself,'' says presidential aide Buteiko. ``The push button is in Moscow.'' Moreover the weapons, without adequate maintenance by Russia, pose a threat to Ukraine, especially those on the 130 older SS-19 missiles.
Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk also responds that de-activation of the SS-24s ``is not equal to dismantlement.'' The warheads will be taken off the missiles, put in storage, and the alert status of the missiles downgraded, he explains.
While the security guarantee is not everything Kiev wants, there is no alternative, the government says. Foreign Minister Anatoli Zlenko told the Rada, ``We should decide: Will we be able to preserve our independence in conditions of international isolation?''