U.S. criticized for warhead proposal Russian objects to outside control of Ukraine's nukes

June 07, 1993|By N.Y. Times News Service

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a blunt expression of differences between Russia and the United States over policy toward nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Pavel S. Grachev yesterday criticized an American plan to place Ukraine's warheads under international control.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Defense Secretary Les Aspin in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, General Grachev said the nuclear warheads left in Ukraine after the breakup of the Soviet Union are Russian and should remain under Russian control.

American officials conceded that the Russians were skeptical of the Clinton administration's new strategy of trying to woo Ukraine with promises of broader relations and symbolic security assurances and of the administration's specific initiatives.

But in their public and private comments, Russian officials stopped short of ruling out the American initiatives, reflecting Moscow's hope that American involvement in the nuclear issue might yet lead to the elimination of Ukraine's nuclear arsenal.

After meeting with Mr. Grachev, Mr. Aspin flew to Kiev for two days of talks with Ukrainian officials and legislators on the nuclear issue. Ukrainian Defense Minister Konstanin Morozov repeated assurances yesterday that his country would renounce nuclear weapons but that there would be a difficult fight in Parliament.

Russia's stand introduces a new factor into the complex triangular diplomacy over Ukraine's nuclear weapons. In deference to Moscow's sensitivities, Washington has avoided portraying itself as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, which had been under Moscow's control. But Washington has quietly tried to do exactly that.

In talks with Russia's defense minister, Mr. Aspin and Strobe Talbott, the American ambassador at large to the former Soviet republics, tried to convince Mr. Grachev that pressure and diplomatic isolation, Russia's favorite approach, would not work.

"Time is not a friend here," a senior American official said, asserting that the administration's new approach needed to be tried because Ukraine could achieve operational control over the nuclear-tipped missiles on its territory over a relatively short period.

Russian officials say Ukraine may have operational control over the weapons in six to nine months, about half the American estimate.

The administration has also tried to convince Russia that Washington's approach does not mean that American commitment to a nuclear-free Ukraine has weakened or that Washington is seeking an anti-Russian alliance.

To underscore American interest in strong ties with Moscow, Mr. Aspin yesterday told of steps that Washington was taking to strengthen ties with the Russian military. These include joint training for peacekeeping with American and Russian troops.

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