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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Hints At Shift on Missiles

President Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine said Friday that the START-1 arms reduction treaty does not include the 46 modern SS-24 missiles on its soil, in an interview with Reuters that baffled diplomats.

According to the interview, which Reuters said was recorded on video, Kravchuk said the SS-24s "are not included in the START-1 treaty, but we will solve this question supplementing this treaty by a separate agreement between the United States, Russia and Ukraine".

This was the first time that Kravchuk has publicly accepted what has long been the standard position in the Ukrainian parliament - namely that the fate of the 46 SS-24s, each of which has 10 nuclear warheads, is far from settled.

The suggestion, that the SS-24s do not fall under the START-1 treaty at all - and therefore need not be destroyed under its terms - is likely to prove worrying for both Moscow and Washington, because it signals that Ukraine could renege on its pledge to destroy all nuclear weapons on its soil.

The Ukrainian president, who has repeatedly pledged that his country will become non-nuclear, said that Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U. S. President Bill Clinton had already begun working out an additional agreement for the SS-24s.

"The mechanisms and aspects of this initiative are now being worked out", he told Reuters.

While Kravchuk has repeatedly said that Ukraine will give up all its nuclear weapons, many legislators believe the country should keep them as a deterrent against potential aggression from Russia. Others believe a higher price should be obtained for releasing them, a policy which Kravchuk seems to have embraced lately.

One diplomat contacted in Kiev expressed extreme caution about Friday's statement, saying that there must be some confusion in terminology.

The diplomat noted a meeting in Washington this week between the defense ministers of Ukraine and the United States at which it was understood that Ukraine's 130 SS-19s will be dismantled earlier than the SS-24s.

But that understanding did not support the idea that SS-24s are exempted from START-1, as Kravchuk said Friday. In fact, no missiles are singled out by name for destruction in the START-1 treaty, only classes of missiles. It is up to the signatories to decide which to destroy.

The collapse of the Soviet Union complicated START-1 by leaving weapons covered by the treaty on the territory of four different countries. Potentially, four different governments would have had to agree on which weapons to keep or destroy while keeping to the overall limits stipulated in the treaty.

This is a problem only in the case of Ukraine, the sole country not to have ratified START-1. Kazakhstan and Belarus have both so far agreed simply to return the weapons to Russia, leaving the decision entirely with Moscow.

Kiev, by contrast, has been schizophrenic over the question of what to do with its 176 ballistic missiles, tipped with about 1, 600 warheads.

Yury Kostenko, the former head of parliament's START committee said recently that "130 strategic missiles are due to be dismantled under the START-1 plan. That leaves 46 which are not covered under the treaty".

One reason cited by Ukraine for distinguishing between the two categories of weapons is that the SS-24s were produced at factories in Ukraine, while the SS-19s were brought from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

This has importance for Kiev's running debate with Moscow over who owns the weapons until the moment of their destruction.