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Ukrainian Parliament Ratifies START-I, but Restricts Its Scope

By Mary Mycio
Special to the Los Angeles Times

KIEV, Ukraine

The Ukrainian Parliament ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as START-I Thursday -- with so many "ifs" and "buts" as to render it ineffective.

Lawmakers voted 254 to 9 to limit the treaty's scope to about one-third of the nuclear missiles on Ukrainian soil and set conditions that would delay the dismantling of even those weapons well into the next century.

The vote, occurring less than a month after a visit here by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, defied strong pressure on Ukraine from the United States and Russia to renounce nuclear weapons and speed the process of world disarmament.

It also ignored an appeal by Ukraine's own president to apply the treaty to all 1,240 warheads on the 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles Ukraine inherited from the former Soviet Union's arsenal. Instead, Parliament committed Ukraine to remove just 63 multiple-warhead missiles from their silos, destroy those silos and take 520 nuclear warheads off the missiles.

The START-I treaty states that this disarmament process is to be completed within seven years of ratification. In Ukraine's case, that would have meant by November of the year 2000.

But Parliament ruled that the seven-year countdown would not start until the five traditional nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- all sign a security treaty with Ukraine, honoring its borders and pledging not to attack it with nuclear bombs, conventional weapons or "economic pressure."

So far, Russia has declined to drop territorial claims against Ukraine. And the United States is offering Ukraine nothing more than it guarantees any non-nuclear state: to refrain from attack with its own nuclear weapons and to denounce any country that does attack to the U.N. Security Council.

Ukraine's Parliament also made it clear that the pace of disarmament would depend on the inflow of unspecified sums in foreign aid to offset the cost of disarming.

That condition is also a problem. Ukrainian officials, struggling with one of the weakest economies in the former Soviet Union, have said in the past they need $2.8 billion for the entire arsenal; the Clinton administration is offering $175 million.

Parliament's restrictions on the treaty were not unexpected, given its chronic resistance to disarmament since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union two years ago. Supporters of the restrictions admitted they might be hard for other countries to accept.

"They are realistic if you take account of Ukraine's national interests," said lawmaker Serhiy Holovaty. "But they are not realistic from the standpoint of the West."