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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Says It Can Stop Rocket Launch

Ukrainian officials have signaled in a series of statements and interviews that they already partially control the nuclear weapons on their territory and may be preparing to take them over completely.

A top Ukrainian military official said on the BBC program Newsnight on Tuesday evening that Kiev can already block any order from Moscow to launch nuclear weapons from Ukrainian soil.

"We do have this ability, but more than that I cannot say", General Ivan Bizhan, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, told Newsnight.

One military analyst said that Kiev had set up several working groups of specialists to work on the problems of how to retarget Ukraine's intercontinental missiles on shorter range objects, and to develop the electronic codes required to launch them.

"They have not made a big investment in this, but they have set up working groups on these issues", said Pavel Felgenhauer, military specialist for the Sevodnya newspaper.

Bizhan's comments were the latest in a fresh round of veiled threats and counter-threats between Moscow and Kiev over Ukraine's nuclear status.

Although the top Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly committed themselves to giving up all nuclear weapons, parliament has delayed ratifying the START-1 nuclear arms reduction treaty and many legislators believe Ukraine should keep the missiles as insurance against Russian aggression.

Kiev raised the stakes last month by declaring that its 46 SS-24 missiles do not fall under START-1, implying that Ukraine claims the right to keep the weapons and remain a nuclear power if they chose.

Although the START-1 treaty does not exclude the SS-24 from its terms, it does leave it to the discretion of the two parties who signed the document - the United States and former Soviet Union - to decide which weapons should be cut to meet the overall target of a 33 percent reduction.

Konstantin Grishchenko, head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry's arms and disarmament department, told a press conference in Kiev on Tuesday that the four nuclear inheritors of the Soviet Union - Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus - should have multilateral talks to decide which missiles should go.

Moscow, by contrast, would like to keep control of the process by negotiating separately with each of the three other former republics.

Moscow has also acknowledged publicly for the first time this month that control over the former Soviet nuclear arsenal does not lie with the joint command of the Commonwealth of Independent States, but with Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.

Grishchenko had lashed out at the press conference, saying that Grachev's assumption of control over the nuclear button was "not legal".

The Russian announcement did not come as a surprise, however. Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma commented to the Ukrainian Interfax news agency that "we all knew well enough" that Grachev had control over the weapons.