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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev States Ownership Of Nuclear Weapons

KIEV - In a move certain to infuriate Russia and cause deep consternation in the West, Ukraine's parliament on Friday claimed ownership of the nuclear arsenal on its territory.

A foreign policy doctrine approved in a vote of 226-15 declared that Ukraine had become "an owner of nuclear weapons inherited from the Soviet Union".

It was the first time that Ukraine had given itself a nuclear status in official legislation.

"The doctrine underlines Ukraine's position and its right of ownership of the nuclear weapons", said Sergei Holovaty, a deputy to the parliament, the Supreme Rada.

In an apparent effort to soften the effect of their words, the legislators included in their document a clause stating that Ukraine had no intention of using or threatening to use the weapons, which form the world's third largest nuclear arsenal.

The declaration also said that the former Soviet republic "stresses its intention to become a non-nuclear state in the future".

Adoption of the doctrine is certain to delay Ukrainian ratification of START I and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, under which the country of 52 million people is to rid itself of 176 Soviet nuclear missiles still on its territory.

The Kremlin refuses all Ukrainian claims to the missiles and says that Moscow is to assume control of them pending their destruction on Russian territory.

The United States and its NATO allies have also been pressing Ukraine to honor the pledge it made to give up its nuclear arms after the breakup of the Soviet Union 18 months ago.

In Moscow, spokesmen for President Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Foreign Ministry declined to comment immediately on the Ukrainian move, which followed an increase in tension between the two countries this week over the Black Sea Fleet.

But a member of the Russian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee quickly denounced Kiev's new nuclear doctrine.

"The Supreme Soviet of Ukraine continues to try to use speculation over its nuclear status to try to gain privileged status in the world community", the legislator, Yevgeny Pudovkin, said.

"This policy is doomed to failure, because Ukraine cannot hope to negotiate from a position of strength", he added. "Russia and the United States will not be able to agree to this decision".

There was no immediate reaction from Washington.

Parliamentarians in Kiev said that Ukraine would seek to find some kind of arrangement with the West whereby the country would enjoy temporary nuclear status for the time period during which the START I and II strategic arms reduction treaties were being implemented.

"Ukraine should be given special status", Holovaty said. "We cannot sign the nonproliferation treaty as a non-nuclear country because we have inherited these missiles. We need immediate status as a temporary nuclear state".

The advantage of such a status for Ukrainians would be to provide a period in which the country could effectively use the weapons as an insurance policy against Russia, giving it time to break the codes by which Russia maintains electronic control of the missiles. Deputies also believe that the declaration will strengthen Ukraine in its dealings with Washington.

"If we do not say that these weapons are ours, then we have no right to exchange these weapons for security guarantees and compensation", Dmytro Pavlychko, chairman of parliament's foreign affairs commission, said after the debate.

"Ukraine will move toward arms reductions and START will be ratified. Only our enemies can say that Ukraine wants to become a nuclear state and brandish a nuclear truncheon".

The declaration on Ukraine's nuclear status is seen as a victory for the country's pro-nuclear lobby, which is led by Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma. Before becoming head of government last October, Kuchma was director of Europe's largest missile-making plant.

Ukraine's foreign minister, Anatoli Zlenko, told the U. S. ambassador in Kiev this week that the American attack on Baghdad on Sunday had made ratification of START I more difficult because of opposition to the raid in the country.

Reuters reported from Kiev:

At stake are 130 six-warhead SS-19 and 4610-warhead SS-24 strategic missiles based at Pervomaisk and Khmelnytsky, and an estimated several hundred nuclear-tipped cruise missiles carried on heavy bombers. Tactical nuclear warheads were withdrawn to Russia last year.

Ukraine last year signed the START I treaty and agreed to ratify the nonproliferation treaty as a non-nuclear state. A protracted debate on the treaties is to be resumed during parliament's current session.

President Leonid Kravchuk has pledged that Ukraine will uphold its commitments and back the treaties.

But an increasing number of deputies, including Prime Minister Kuchma, say the former Soviet republic should keep some of its weapons at least temporarily.

They call on the West to give Ukraine security guarantees in exchange for giving up the weapons and compensation of some $2 billion to cover the costs of disarmament.

The United States, which has urged Ukraine to proceed with ratification, has promised $175 million, a sum dismissed as derisory by senior officials, including President Kravchuk.

Few deputies believe that Ukraine, which has no facilities to enrich uranium or test weapons, could seriously consider becoming a nuclear state in the long term.

During Friday's brief debate, nationalist deputies criticized the foreign policy doctrine, saying it had put Ukraine on the defensive internationally.

Some called for the resignation of the country's top arms negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, who has championed Ukraine's non-nuclear policy first proclaimed by parliament in July 1990.

"Our policy is not a defensive one", Zlenko said in reply. "We base our actions on national interests. Our differences with parliament are not strategic in nature, only in tactics".