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Ukraine Says It’s Deactivating Some A-Arms

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a concession to the United States and Russia, Ukraine disclosed Monday that it is deactivating some of the most sophisticated weapons in the 1,800-warhead nuclear arsenal left on Ukrainian territory after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The move to dismantle 20 of its 46 Soviet-made SS-24 missiles, announced in Kiev by Deputy Prime Minister Valery Shmarov and confirmed by top Clinton Administration officials, came in response to increased pressure from Washington and Moscow last weekend.

U.S. arms-control experts said that the decision is significant because the SS-24s are so potent and because the step--ordered by Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk--came over the objections of some Ukrainian military officers and members of Parliament, who had wanted to keep the missiles intact.

Nevertheless, analysts noted that the action still leaves Ukraine with 26 SS-24s carrying a total of 260 nuclear warheads--more than either Britain or France now has--and falls far short of meeting U.S. demands that Ukraine return its nuclear weapons to Russia for dismantling.

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Ukraine also has about 130 older SS-19 missiles equipped with six nuclear warheads each, and some 42 strategic bombers, with a stockpile of an additional 592 nuclear warheads. The Ukrainians gave their battlefield nuclear weapons back to Russia and are negotiating for compensation.

Monday’s announcement followed a series of talks over the weekend among officials of the United States, Russia and Ukraine, in which Moscow and Washington agreed in principle to compensate Kiev for giving up its nuclear weapons. The amount still is being negotiated.

President Clinton had personally asked Kravchuk to deactivate the missiles as a step toward relieving the tensions between Ukraine and the international community over the nuclear weapons that it inherited from the Soviets.

Strobe Talbott, Clinton’s personal envoy to the region, called deactivation of the missiles a step toward “defusing” tensions over Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal that would “make it easier for the international community to help” Kiev by providing more aid.

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But there was no immediate indication that Kravchuk would ease up on his demands for substantially more aid if Ukraine is ever to dismantle the remainder of its nuclear weapons. Washington announced $330 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine in late October.

The Ukrainian Rada, or Parliament, ratified the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty in October but appended 13 separate conditions demanding compensation of up to $2.8 billion--a figure that the West has rejected as too high.

Talbott said Monday that despite the Rada’s restrictions, Kravchuk believed that action on the treaty had provided him with “the legal basis” to deactivate the SS-24s. Talbott called the move “significant.”

But Jack Mendelsohn, deputy director of the Arms Control Assn., a private organization that monitors nuclear disarmament efforts, called Monday’s announcement “a very partial step” toward Ukraine’s fulfilling the demands of the international community.

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Private arms-control experts suggested that one motivation behind Kravchuk’s latest move might be to win an invitation to visit Clinton in the White House--a step that presumably would bolster the Ukrainian leader’s status internationally.

The Ukrainian president has expressed such a desire in the past but has been told bluntly by U.S. officials that the request would not even be considered until he took some step “in the right direction” on nuclear disarmament.

It was not immediately clear whether Monday’s action would be enough.

Both U.S. and Ukrainian officials said that the missiles would be deactivated by removing their nuclear warheads and storing them away from the weapon’s launch stages. Shmarov said that Ukraine already has deactivated 17 missiles and would dismantle three more by the end of the year.

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“This means lowering the level of military alert,” he told reporters.

In a briefing for reporters, Talbott said that the United States would be able to verify whether the Ukrainians actually deactivate their SS-24s--presumably through oversight flights by U.S. spy satellites.


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