How To Handle Ukraine? Sweetly!

May 14, 1993

The United States has switched from vinegar to honey in its drive to secure Ukraine's compliance with nuclear arms treaties that would eliminate its portion of the old Soviet arsenal. In a visit to Kiev this week, U.S. envoy Strobe Talbott assured his much-affronted hosts that Washington would treat Ukraine with the dignity it deserves as the world's third ranking nuclear power and an important European country larger than France.

Mr. Talbott's gesture marked a turn-around from President Clinton's refusal to meet with the Ukrainian prime minister in March and his insistence that Ukraine's ratification of the START treaty was "a precondition to a long-term successful relationship." This was seen in Kiev as an insult second only to President Bush's 1991 lecture that Ukraine should stay in the Soviet Union.

The more American officials pressured Ukraine to keep its treaty-signing pledges, the more its politicians balked. Troubled by revanchist rhetoric in Moscow, by bitter disputes with the Russians over the Crimea and the Soviet Black Sea fleet, by Washington's preoccupation with Boris Yeltsin's survival and by the West's reluctance to give it security guarantees, Ukraine delayed ratification of START I, the treaty calling for a one-third cut in strategic weaponry, and cooled perceptively toward the ,, Non-Proliferation Treaty. It knew its stand also blocked the START II pact calling for even more drastic reductions in American-Russian arsenals.

In that context, Mr. Talbott went to Kiev to make amends. He promised to change from "pressure to partnership." As the president's special representative to all the former Soviet states, he called for a "strong and broad-based relationship" that would take into consideration Ukraine's economic and political needs. (Translation: Washington would consider its $175 million offer to finance dismantling of Ukraine's strategic arsenal just a down payment on a project that Ukrainian authorities estimate at up $2.8 billion.) Mr. Talbott even offered U.S. good offices to mediate increasingly bitter disputes between Kiev and Moscow.

This policy reversal gained Mr. Talbott a friendly 45-minute meeting with President Leonid Kravchuk. It also drew hints from the Kiev government that approval of START I may be on the way after a ratification bill moves to the floor of the Ukraine parliament next Tuesday.

With 176 strategic missiles carrying 1,200 warheads still on its territory, and with control of this weaponry still a matter of dispute with Moscow, the Ukrainian question cannot be left to fester.

The final test of any policy, of course, is whether it attains its objectives. The objective in this case is to get Ukraine out of the nuclear club and into the non-proliferation club. Vinegar obviously was not working. Now we shall see if honey does the trick.

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