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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Question Of Nuclear Security

A side-effect of the Ninth Congress of People's Deputies is likely to be further delay in the implementation of the START arms reduction treaties that set a seal on the end of the Cold War.

At present, the chief obstacle to enactment of the treaties has been Ukrainian reluctance to ratify START I, which was signed by Presidents George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in July 1991, several months before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under a protocol signed in Lisbon in May 1992, the nuclear republics of the ex-U. S. S. R. - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - agreed to ratify START I. At present, Ukraine alone has not yet done so.

At the heart of the matter are Ukrainian security concerns. Before ratifying START I, which would eliminate Ukraine's nuclear arsenal over a seven-year period, Kiev wants assurances first and foremost that Russia will never threaten to use nuclear arms against Ukraine. But more than that, Ukraine has now linked the nuclear issue to wider questions on sovereignty as it stakes out a geopolitical identity in the shadow of its giant neighbor.

Specifically, Ukraine is reported to be seeking from Russia - as part of its price for ratifying START I - a guarantee of territorial integrity. After President Boris Yeltsin met his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kravchuk, in January, Kiev indicated that this demand had not been met. Nor is it likely to be met in the near future, for it affects such key issues as possession of Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet, matters dear to the hearts of the Russian nationalists challenging President Yeltsin.

From Ukraine's point of view, the Congress most certainly created new doubts over security. First, with a question mark hanging over Yeltsin's political future, is it wise to conclude agreements with him that could affect Ukraine's survival as an independent state? Second, with nationalism on the rise in Russia, is it wise to turn over the nuclear arms at all?

These questions are of grave import to the United States, the other partner in START, as well as to the world at large. Until START I is ratified and implemented, START II cannot come into force. That treaty, signed in January, slashes U. S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to about 3, 000 warheads each and does away with land-based, multiple-warhead missiles, considered the most dangerous nuclear arms.

Ukrainian fulfillment of its commitment to ratify the first pact is thus the key to Russian action on the second. Without such action, the world cannot evolve into a safer place. Yeltsin's challengers in the Congress should think about this.