Just about a year ago, I landed in Kiev airport to begin a four-week journey throughout Ukraine and Russia. To my surprise, in Kiev’s airport, most planes on the tarmac were from Muslim nations, including Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Libya and Algeria. Equally to my surprise, after checking into my hotel, I discovered that entry onto the sixth floor was restricted because the entire floor had been rented for one year by the Iranian government. That week, Ukraine signed an oil pipeline deal with Iran to make Ukraine less dependent upon Russia, which still supplies most of Ukraine’s oil and natural gas. But coziness between potentially troublesome nations like Iran and a struggling nuclear power like Ukraine should be a worry to the world.
And now that Russia and the United States have ballyhooed the signing of a sweeping disarmament treaty dubbed START-2, the issue of Ukraine’s geopolitical predicament must be dealt with. That is because the Ukrainian parliament may balk at ratifying the arms-cutting treaty’s forerunner, START-1. If unsigned by Ukraine and the other independent republics (Belarus and Kazakhstan) that have nuclear weapons, this means the ambitious START-2 treaty won’t be worth the paper it’s written on.
The treaty between George Bush and Boris Yeltsin appears to have been indecently hasty. Not only were the three other members of the nuclear club ignored in the formal talks, but Ukraine and others complain about security considerations and the expense of the dismantling. Both concerns must be addressed immediately.
Ukraine, for instance, is worried and has historical reasons to be. The last thing that allies should want is for Russia to have the upper hand once again over a defanged Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan because that makes it theoretically possible for a return to the old Russian empire, or the Soviet Union. As some comfort, in January, Ukraine obtained a guarantee from its old oppressor,
Ukraine has promised, to keep its nuclear scientists off unfriendly nations’ payrolls, but nothing can stop them from being lured away
Russia, that it would not use nuclear weapons against them. But those countries also need to have complete guaranteed protection under NATO, as have Poland and other Eastern European nations.
Then there is the issue of costs. Dismantling the huge intercontinental ballistic missiles will cost billions. The treaties with the United States promise American aid to help defray the costs, but revenue-sharing arrangements between Moscow and Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan have not been discussed.
That is critical to Ukraine because, for instance, last year Russia collected Ukraine’s tactical nuclear weapons (movable battlefield weapons), then turned around and sold to the United States fissionable nuclear material from these weapons, without sharing the proceeds. That is why some Ukrainians argue that their weapons should be swapped only in return for direct compensation. Dismantling estimates are high due to the delicate and difficult nature of the operation and incumbent restoration expenses. There is environmental damage around the silos.
Ukraine also has reason to be miffed because the United States does not seem to recognize Ukraine and the others as fully in-
dependent, freestanding Eastern European democracies that just happen to border Russia. The so-called Confederation of Independent States is almost toothless and yet Washington persists in sitting down with Yeltsin, who represents only Russia. This also applies to debt and aid deals as Moscow scoops the headlines and runs the show from the eastern end.
Such snubs ignore the significance of Ukraine’s unilateral declaration of independence in August, 1991, which, by many accounts, was the nail in the Soviet Union’s coffin. Still annoying to Ukrainians was George Bush’s notorious “Chicken Kiev” speech in Ukraine’s parliament, right after its declaration of independence, which urged the country to reconsider leaving the Soviet fold. Imagine an American president actually wanting to prop up the former Soviet Union. Canada, I’m proud to say, became the first Western nation to recognize Ukraine’s independence.
Fortunately, Canada is Ukraine’s natural ally (with one million Ukrainian-Canadians here) and went to bat for it during closed-door debt discussions within the G-7. Germany, owed the lion’s share of the former Soviet debt of about $85 billion, insisted that no fresh loans be advanced until Ukraine signed loan agreements that would force it to be on the hook for any unpaid loans if Russia and others were unable to pay them. Eventually, a new fairer debt-repayment agreement was negotiated last year, but it fell apart because Russia would not also disclose or deal with the division of assets including foreign reserves, real estate and other valuables. A tentative deal dividing debts and assets was announced in January, but cynics suspect that may also fall apart.
All of which leads me and others to worry that the nuclear weapons of Ukraine and others may fall into the arms of questionable allies. Fortunately, when it comes to nuclear brainpower there, measures have been taken to employ Ukrainian nuclear scientists, and some of them work for a U.S.-funded institute in Kiev dedicated to helping clean up the nuclear reactor mess in that country. Clearly, the institute is designed to keep tabs on scientists and to keep them off the payroll of such unfriendly nations as Iran or Libya or Iraq. Ukraine has pledged to prevent that, but nothing can stop someone from being enticed away by some despot who wants his own nuclear bombs.
Hopefully, this START treaty controversy will focus more attention on the fact that Ukraine and the others are still locked in a potentially dangerous Russian vise. Unable to negotiate direct compensation for disarmament, Ukraine and the others must rely on the generosity of their former enemy, which so far has not been generous. Ukraine is unable to meet its own energy needs, and so far its attempts to build a pipeline from the Middle East have been frustrated. If peace is to last, Ukraine and the others must be truly independent. Put another way, if their current predicament is not overcome, their problems may end up becoming a bigger worry for us all.
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