Wary Ukrainians drag feet on nuclear deal

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The Independent Online
UKRAINE suggested yesterday that it had not definitely agreed to give up all its nuclear weapons under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia. While opposition politicians in Kiev denounced the reported accord as a sell-out of Ukrainian security, the country's foreign ministry said the agreement was still in draft form and needed more elaboration.

President Bill Clinton, speaking in Brussels after the Nato summit, said he was confident that Ukraine's President, Leonid Kravchuk, would respect the accord, which is due to be signed in Moscow on Friday. But he acknowledged that Mr Kravchuk would have to push the agreement through the next Ukrainian parliament, which will convene after elections in March.

'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 recognised,' Mr Clinton said. He predicted that, once members of parliament knew all the details of the accord, 'there will be more support for it'.

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yuri Sergeyev, offered a different interpretation.

'Despite Bill Clinton's declarations in Brussels, the Ukrainian side is not sure that the definitive version of the accord on the fate of its nuclear weapons will be signed in Moscow on 14 January,' he said.

The US and Russia have exerted strong pressure on Ukraine to ratify the Start 1 nuclear disarmament agreement, sign the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and relinquish its 176 intercontinental missiles. Nato threatened to exclude Ukraine from its 'Partnership for Peace' programme for Eastern Europe, while Russian military officers alleged that the Ukrainians were breaking safety rules for storing and maintaining the weapons. Ukraine's parliament attached 13 conditions last November to ratification of Start 1, saying the treaty applied to only 42 per cent of the country's nuclear weapons.

Under the proposed deal, Ukraine would give up its missiles and warheads over a seven-year period and receive fuel for its nuclear power stations from the weapons' highly enriched uranium. This would alleviate Ukraine's catastrophic energy shortages, highlighted last month by an order to enterprises in Kiev to cut electricity consumption by 30 per cent.

The deal also envisages US economic aid to Ukraine and the cancellation of a substantial part of Ukraine's long-term debt to Russia. Both Russia and the US would promise not to attack Ukraine with nuclear missiles, and Russia would also pledge to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. The last point is especially important for Ukrainian leaders, who suspect that Russia has never come to terms with the idea of an independent Ukraine on the land of the first medieval Russian state. Even before the extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky's success in last month's Russian elections, Ukrainians believed that Moscow's foreign policy was moving towards a reassertion of Russian hegemony.

For that reason, Vyacheslav Chornovil, the leader of the opposition Rukh party, criticised Mr Kravchuk's apparent readiness to give up the nuclear weapons. 'Kravchuk always wanted to ratify (Start 1) without reservations and take all our weapons away to Russia. This is unacceptable for Ukraine's security,' he said.

However, Ukraine's economic plight is so desperate that its leaders have increasingly faced no choice but to give up the weapons. Prices rose by 57 times last year while state sector wages went up by only 19 times. Industrial output fell by 15 per cent.

Ukraine's fears, page 16