Ukraine in the Cockpit

December 29, 1993

Resurgent Russian revanchism, as revealed in parliamentary elections earlier this month, is causing shock waves among its immediate neighbors, especially Ukraine. The Kiev government has responded in ways that show how rattled it is.

Just before Christmas it attended a summit meeting of the former Soviet states, including Russia, and gave its support to Russia's embattled reform president, Boris N. Yeltsin. But it also insisted on a communique expressing concern about "nationalism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, expansionism and chauvinism." Each of these words could apply to the inflammatory views of Vladimir Shiranovsky, the neo-fascist demagogue whose party drew a huge protest vote in Dec. 12 elections.

Ambivalence governs Ukraine's approach to the highly sensitive question of dismantling its nuclear arsenal, the world's third largest. It will have dismantled 20 of its 46 SS-24s, the most modern of Soviet-era missiles, by the end of this week and will get rid of the rest during 1994. But this move still would leave Ukraine with 130 older SS-19 missiles and 37 strategic bombers.

Ukraine clearly intends to use these remaining nuclear weapons to extract concessions from the United States and Russia. From Washington, it wants $2.8 billion -- as compared to the $330 million offered -- to finance dismantling. Even more, Kiev wants firm security guarantees -- firmer than NATO contemplates -- to protect it from the menacing Russian bear on its borders. From hTC Moscow, Ukraine wants immediate relief from higher oil prices due New Year's Day. Even more, it wants compensation for the 2,000 tactical weapons it has already turned over to Russia and uranium supplies for its nuclear power stations.

Taken in isolation, these would seem the reasonable demands of a nation wobbling under economic collapse and fearful of a larger, more powerful neighbor. But seen in a wider European and world context, the Ukrainian policy undercuts some of the larger objectives of the superpowers.

Foremost is its threat to delay or derail the two Strategic Arms Reductions Treaties (START I and II) by holding onto weaponry ticketed for destruction. If Ukraine were to remain a nuclear power, it would also jeopardize the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Considering Ukraine's key role, the Clinton administration must maintain dialogue -- and pressure. This country cannot tolerate having its nuclear disarmament objectives thwarted if it is to have any success in stopping the flow of such weaponry to rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

The U.S. has plenty of leverage. Ukraine will need more financial help than Washington has yet offered to dismantle its nuclear arsenals. Ukraine would welcome inclusion in NATO's "Partnership for Peace" move eastward, even if it cannot get the security guarantees that come with full NATO membership. So the three-way dialogue needs to continue. A secure yet non-nuclear Ukraine should be a prime objective for 1994.

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