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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Warns Ukraine Not to Sell Bombers

KIEV — The United States will stop financing the dismantling of Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal if the country sells more strategic bombers to Russia as payment for gas debts, the U.S. ambassador said.

"We will not pay Ukraine for cutting up the bombers if it does not destroy them,’’ Ambassador Steven Pifer was quoted Monday by Interfax.

Although the United States respects Ukraine’s decision to turn over the strategic bombers to Russia, the U.S. government would prefer them to be dismantled because the planes were originally created to carry nuclear arms directed at the United States, Pifer said.

Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but pledged to become nuclear-free. It surrendered all its nuclear warheads to Russia, and was left with 130 SS-19 missiles, 46 SS-24 missiles and more than 40 Tu-160s and Tu-95 MC strategic bombers.

The United States has contributed more than $500 million under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program to help Ukraine dismantle the weapons.

The program was initiated in 1991 to promote nuclear disarmament in the former Soviet Union. The Ukrainian part was extended last year until 2006.

Ukraine gave eight Blackjack Tu-160 and three Bear Tu-95 strategic bombers along with 674 cruise missiles to Russia last year in exchange for clearing $285 million of Ukraine’s natural gas debts.

The Ukrainian government is considering offering 10 more bombers to Russia after the latest gas talks in Moscow.