Missile accord hailed by Clinton not quite a done deal in Ukraine

January 12, 1994|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- An agreement to remove all of Ukraine's nuclear weapons, hailed by President Clinton on Monday as historic, emerged yesterday as something short of a done deal.

The pact goes a long way toward addressing Ukrainian concerns over financial aid, security and easing Russian economic pressures. Those concerns have twice prevented the former Soviet republic from fulfilling previous commitments to become a non-nuclear state and ratify a strategic arms accord.

But it still must run a gantlet in the Ukrainian parliament, which buried earlier attempts at dismantling the nuclear arsenal.

U.S. officials were trying yesterday to shorten the seven-year time frame before Ukraine will be fully non-nuclear. That's a long and uncertain period in the chaotic former Soviet Union.

The dramatic announcement that Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk would come to Moscow to sign a missile agreement came midway through the NATO summit and permitted Mr. Clinton to shift attention away from allied wrangling over air strikes in Bosnia.

But 24 hours later, Ukraine's Foreign Ministry still wouldn't say the deal was complete. A spokesman said that if it wasn't ready by Friday, then a three-way meeting among Mr. Clinton, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and Mr. Kravchuk "will have a consultative nature."

The document "could be a pact, agreement, declaration or communique," the spokesman said.

The rushed announcement of a missile deal brought some high-level confusion.

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher told reporters in Brussels, Belgium, on Monday that it was his understanding that Mr. Kravchuk could put the pact into effect "by executive action." But yesterday, Mr. Clinton acknowledged that Mr. Kravchuk must persuade his parliament to relinquish SS-24s and SS-19s to Russia, even in exchange for more than $1 billion in compensation.

"This agreement, reached by President Kravchuk, I think was reached with the full understanding in his mind that he would have to sell it but that it contained advantages for Ukraine far more than had previously been recognized," the president told reporters attending the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Brussels.

A senior U.S. diplomat who follows events in Ukraine closely was more cautious.

"Kravchuk has never been able to deliver anything in the past," he said. "The parliament has never been a tool of Kravchuk."

Paul Goble, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a harsh critic of U.S. policy toward the former Soviet Union, was cautious about the outcome.

"The history is we're always proclaiming victory and going back when it wasn't one," he said.

After the Ukrainian parliament, or Rada, effectively refused to ratify the START I strategic arms reduction pact last fall, Mr. Kravchuk said he would make another attempt when a newly elected parliament convened this March, and began seriously to work with the United States and Russia to achieve a more favorable deal.

The effort was helped by smoother U.S.-Ukrainian ties developed by U.S. diplomats over the summer, when the United States took Kiev's side in a dispute with Russia over Sevastopol.

But as Ukraine's economy slid further downhill, pressure began to grow to satisfy the chief U.S. concern: dismantling Kiev's nuclear weapons.

Key Russian concessions were cancellation of a $2.5 billion Ukrainian energy debt and the granting to Ukraine of about $1 billion of the $12 billion that the United States pledged to spend on enriched uranium from former Soviet Bloc countries over 20 years.

Russia acknowledged the sovereignty of Ukraine's borders and agreed to avoid economic coercion against its neighbor. Moscow also promised not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear Ukraine.

Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, said the deal "effectively responds to the biggest issues" raised by Ukrainian opponents of the pact: compensation and security.

But the makeup of the new Ukrainian parliament is uncertain, and opponents of the pact may be emboldened to demand stronger guarantees in view of the political turmoil in Russia, particularly the rise of extreme nationalist Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky.

While the Rada's role in implementing the denuclearization pact is unclear, it must approve both START I and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Failure to do either would scuttle the new pact, experts in Washington say.

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