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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kiev Seeks Fuel-for-Arms Deal With Russia

KIEV -- The Ukrainian government is prepared to start transferring nuclear warheads to Russia as quickly as Moscow can compensate it with fuel for its atomic energy reactors, this country's chief arms negotiator says.


Vice Prime Minister Valery Shmarov outlined Ukraine's position in an interview Friday as he prepared for disarmament talks in Washington this week with Russian and U.S. officials. The three-way talks are focused on Ukraine's conditions for giving up nearly 1,800 warheads inherited from the Soviet Union, a top priority of the Clinton administration.


Mindful of Russian claims on parts of its territory, Ukraine has balked at complying with international treaties to surrender the arsenal, saying that it first needs guarantees of security and material compensation. Mistrust between the two former Soviet republics has derailed several agreements.


Only last month did the United States become involved in the talks, and that produced an immediate concession when Ukraine announced that it was deactivating 20 of its SS-24 missiles, the most sophisticated weapon in the arsenal.


In the interview, however, Shmarov indicated that those missiles, which carry a total of 200 warheads, were due to be dismantled anyway for periodic maintenance and might be reassembled unless Ukraine gets "an adequate response" from Russia and the United States.


He said that at the talks this week Ukraine will urge a formula that would help solve Ukraine's most pressing problem, a severe energy crisis that has reduced heating in homes and offices this winter.


"We will give Russia weapons-grade uranium (in the warheads) in return for nuclear reactor fuel," he said.


Russia and Ukraine agreed on such an exchange in September, without setting a timetable, but the deal quickly fell apart. On one side, Russia insisted on getting all the warheads by 1997 and spreading out fuel deliveries over 20 years. On the other, Ukraine balked at pledging to turn over all its weapons.


To build mutual confidence, Shmarov said he will propose what amounts to a trial swap of a token number of warheads for the equivalent in nuclear fuel. If the swap is agreed to and is completed simultaneously, that would "give us certainty" that Russia will compensate Ukraine for the entire lot of warheads, he said.


"I think we will initial, maybe even sign, an agreement on this subject in Washington," the negotiator said.


He cautioned that any agreement must be ratified by Ukraine's parliament, which declared in November that the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks treaty known as START I applies to just 36 percent of Ukraine's warheads. At the same time, he said President Leonid Kravchuk is committed to "full disarmament."


Ukraine would like the United States to disarm some of its nuclear missiles in return. But Shmarov did not pose that as a condition, saying only, "If we take off 10 weapons, be so kind as to reduce 10 weapons that are now aimed at us."


The Clinton administration has been unenthusiastic about that proposal. Even so, Shmarov gave Washington credit for an apparent breakthrough in the talks since then-special U.S. presidential envoy Strobe Talbott, now deputy secretary of state, met here Dec. 16 with him and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.


Ukraine announced four days later it was deactivating the 20 missiles, and a flurry of diplomatic activity followed. Kravchuk flew to Budapest for talks with Vice President Al Gore and met later with President Boris Yeltsin to lay the groundwork for the talks starting Monday in Washington.