Ukraine Says Republics OK Separate Armies
With the Ukraine hurtling toward independence, lawmakers from the Soviet republics have agreed in principle on their homelands’ right to field their own armies, seemingly posing a threat to the world’s largest fighting force, the Soviet army, Ukrainian officials said Saturday.
Returning from talks in Moscow, Vasily V. Durdenets, chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament’s commission on military and security affairs, said that the conferees agreed on a statement that constitutes “the first document to support the right of the Ukraine and other republics to their own military forces.”
Today, voters in the Ukraine are expected to force the biggest breach yet in the crumbling Soviet edifice by voting overwhelmingly to endorse a parliamentary declaration of independence. They will also cast ballots for a president.
In the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan, voters are also heading to the polls today to elect their first president. The republic’s popular current leader, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, is the only candidate.
The virtual certainty of the Ukraine’s break from Moscow is an event of such magnitude that it has brought about a realignment of U.S. policy, away from the national leadership of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and toward the Ukraine and its fellow republics.
In a telephone conversation with President Bush on Saturday, Gorbachev stressed that even if the Ukrainians vote for independence, this will not mean they are breaking from the Soviet Union.
“To push matters in this direction would mean heading for disaster--for the union, for the Ukraine itself, for Russia, for Europe and the world,” Gorbachev told Bush, according to Tass, the official Soviet news agency.
In an interview published Saturday, Gorbachev urged the Ukraine to remain in the union and implied that if it secedes, Russia may claim some of what it considers its own territories.
“Let us not forget that Kharkov was joined to the Ukraine by the Bolsheviks to gain a majority in the soviets (local councils) and that the Crimea is long linked to Russian history,” Gorbachev said in remarks published by Tass.
Gorbachev’s statement elicited the strongest rebuke ever from Ukrainian leader Leonid M. Kravchuk, who accused Gorbachev of “ill-considered” remarks.
The powers that be in Moscow, Kravchuk claimed, are “rasping with their last breath as the power is slipping from their hands.” He accused the central government of trying to blackmail the Ukraine with threats of economic sanctions if they choose secession.
Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin joined his voice with Gorbachev’s, saying he too cannot imagine the union without the Ukraine.
“So far as I am concerned,” Yeltsin told Tass, “I have always said that I support the union.”
But Kravchuk made it clear, in a televised pre-election message to the Ukrainian people, that he blames Moscow’s rule for all of the Ukraine’s modern ills.
“Your yes to the act proclaiming independence is a promising guarantee that there will never again be an organized famine, Stalinist terror, the Chernobyl disaster or the total destruction of national languages, cultures and customs,” Kravchuk said.
With today’s referendum seen as a mandate for a quick decision on separate armies for the republics, Durdenets and the Ukrainian defense minister, Air Force Col. Gen. Konstantin P. Morozov, took part in a two-day series of meetings in Moscow with lawmakers from the national legislature, or Supreme Soviet, and chairmen of defense commissions from parliaments of the republics.
“It was very difficult to come to such an agreement on such a difficult issue,” Morozov told a standing-room-only news conference in the Kiev mansion that serves as the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry press center.
However, the Ukrainians, whose Parliament on Oct. 22 passed the first reading of a bill creating an army for the republic, stuck to their decision to field their own military force and said they finally carried the day.
“What is important is the acknowledgment by the high representatives of the republics of the processes now under way,” Morozov said.
The decision, which was made by all the republics except Azerbaijan, has not been approved by the State Council, the Soviet Union’s collective executive body, and could run into strong opposition there. But the Ukrainians intend to proceed anyway.
Gorbachev and Yeltsin have been among the strongest opponents of local armies because the forces would be a potentially fateful step away from their own efforts, fruitless so far, at forging a loose economic and political confederation among the Soviet republics.
In his last major speech before the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies, Yeltsin even warned the republics that if they insist on forming their own armies, Russia, by far the mightiest of the lot, will give itself one as well.
The Ukrainians said that the Moscow resolution was signed by the chairman of the Defense and Security Affairs Committee of the Russian Supreme Soviet, Sergei V. Stepashin, and that the deputy Soviet defense minister, Lt. Gen. Pavel S. Grachev, participated in the talks.
An independent Ukrainian army would establish a duality of military command on Ukrainian soil. Locally controlled troops would become the sole conventional forces in this France-sized republic, while “strategic deterrence forces,” subordinate to the central government, would continue to maintain the 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles and other nuclear weapons here.
The Ukraine does not control the strategic or tactical nuclear weapons on its territory and does not desire to control them, Morozov said, citing a proclamation by the Parliament, the Supreme Rada, on the Ukraine’s desire to be a “nuclear-free state.”
However, the three-star general said, “the Ukraine does think it should have political control over those weapons. . . . It is not difficult to develop a concrete mechanism for this.”
Although Bush plans to offer U.S. diplomatic recognition soon after the Ukrainian referendum, he wants firm assurances that the Ukraine will destroy or remove nuclear missiles from its territory, adhere to U.S.-Soviet arms treaties and seek security agreements with Russia and its other neighbors, officials in Washington say.
The Ukrainian officials were quick to offer such pledges, although Kravchuk, who is the favored candidate in the presidential election, has sometimes seemed to waffle.
“Strategic nuclear weapons are temporarily based on the territory of the Ukraine and must be destroyed as quickly as possible in accordance with the (START) treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union,” Morozov said.
As for tactical nuclear arms, “they must be destroyed in accordance with existing technical norms and the norms of international control,” he said. “The Ukraine’s armed forces will never possess nuclear weapons.”
Morozov said one of the first items on the agenda of the Supreme Rada when it reconvenes after the election will be final passage of laws setting up the armed forces and defining how the republics should be defended.
Much planning remains, however; Morozov would only say the Ukrainian army will be between 90,000 and 400,000 soldiers strong, in keeping with a defense doctrine of “reasonable sufficiency.”
It is doubtful that the Kiev leadership, which has never had to deal with such matters under Soviet rule, has thought through such obscure matters as military doctrine. A diplomat who visited Morozov’s ministry three weeks ago said it still had a staff of only three people.
According to Ukrainian government officials, 1.2 million Soviet soldiers, sailors and aviators are now based in the Ukraine, which has two clusters of strategic missiles and an air base where 30 Tupolev-95 Bears, the longest-range strategic bomber in the Soviet arsenal, are based.
Existing units, strategic forces excepted, will form the kernel of the new Ukrainian army, according to Kiev-based officials’ current plan.