Ukraine vs. Russia and nuclear weapons : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Ukraine vs. Russia | `Country cousin' will be pushed around no longer and it has nuclear weapons, too Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune Publication date: 1993-07-04 Arrival time: 2000-09-12

Can Russia come to terms with its loss of empire without a war? The answer to this question lies in Ukraine. After three centuries of Russian rule over Ukraine, most Russians have learned to look down on Ukrainians as country cousins and think of them as part -- though admittedly a big part -- of the greater Russian people.

If Russia can now come to terms with an independent Ukraine, that means the Russian empire is truly dead and buried.

But the signs are not good. Disputes between Russia and Ukraine about nuclear weapons, the former Soviet Union's Black Sea fleet and money have become poisonous.

Yuri Dubinin, Russia's chief negotiator with Ukraine, says that such things are inevitable when two countries so closely connected are forced to learn how "to be brothers, but in two different states."

Maybe. But asked how many disputes they have managed to resolve over the past 18 months, he can think of only one, on dividing money given by Germany to rehouse army officers. This took nine months to negotiate and involved only $4.7 million.

On both sides, nationalism is growing. The Ukrainian government has legitimate worries when facing an unstable and vastly more powerful neighbor with which it is economically interdependent (Ukraine imports 90 percent of its oil from Russia, which is the main market for Ukrainian exports).

Ukraine could address these worries either by placating Russia or by standing up to it aggressively.

A "little brother" complex and a need to establish its national identity has meant that its leaders have chosen to be aggressive.

At the same time, the Ukrainians have made a mess of running their economy. Hyperinflation looms, and on June 16 President Leonid Kravchuk reacted by staging a kind of non-military coup, taking personal control of the government, security services and economic policy, and giving his prime minister emergency powers to deal with the gathering crisis.

With the economy in ruins, leaders have been looking around for someone else to blame. Russia is the obvious scapegoat.

Mykola Mykhalchenko, the chief political adviser to President Kravchuk, has said: "It is absolutely clear what Russia's tactics are. It wants to force Ukraine to make political concessions to Russia in order to form a new union, a neo-U.S.S.R. Russia wants to bring Ukraine to its knees."

To reformers in the Russian government, this is paranoia. They reckon that Russia has enough problems of its own, without trying to re-create an empire. To the extent that they think about Ukraine at all, they are glad to be rid of it. The reformers' foreign policy has concentrated on the West.

But the reformers' relative lack of interest in former republics of the Soviet Union has allowed right-wing opponents to dictate the terms of the debate on how to deal with Ukraine. They make no bones about what they want.

According to Den, a newspaper that acts as the mouthpiece of the right, a meeting held in February by the shadow cabinet of something called the National Salvation Front, an organization supported by one- third of the deputies in Russia's parliament, decided that "The situation in Ukraine is becoming more and more dangerous. Therefore, as professionals, we should investigate possible scenarios for a sudden nuclear war with Kiev."

Such insanity is a symptom of growing nationalism in Russian politics. Alexander Tsipko, a philosopher and democrat-turned- nationalist, spoke for many in the middle ground of Russian politics, when he wrote last year that without Kiev, the cultural center of Russia until the 12th century, "there can be no Russia in the old, real sense of the word."

Against this background, it is hardly surprising that the outstanding disputes between Russia and Ukraine are proving intractable. These fall into three groups.

The first concerns money. Russia and Ukraine have been haggling about how to apportion the Soviet Union's debts and assets.

The move away from controlled trade at low fixed prices to more normal patterns of trade is causing big problems. An agreement signed in June last year to move to world market prices has proved "very hard to realize," says Dubinin.

The sale of oil and gas to Ukraine has been particularly troublesome. At the beginning of this year Russia promised to supply Ukraine with 14.5 million tons of oil, or about one-third of what Ukraine said it needed for the year. The Russians are now threatening to turn the oil tap off because Ukraine has not paid for what it has received.

Ukraine complains that Russia is using economic threats to apply pressure over military disputes involving the Black Sea fleet and the 176 nuclear missiles on Ukrainian soil.

An agreement signed by Presidents Kravchuk and Boris Yeltsin last August said that the Black Sea fleet should be divided in two by 1995. This is also proving impossible to implement. The Ukrainian government cannot afford to pay for its half.

This has led to near-mutiny, as many sailors, who at first took an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, have asked to serve under the Russian flag in the hope of being paid.

But the key problem is where the rusting fleet should be based. The Russians originally suggested that they should take half of Sebastopol, but the Ukrainians are not willing to accept any Russian claims to their land.

So the Russians suggested they might rent the port instead. No good. "We can never rent out Sebastopol, because we will never get it back," says Mykhalchenko.

The second area of contention involves nuclear weapons. Kravchuk has promised that Ukraine will eventually ratify the first strategic- arms reduction treaty (START-1) and sign the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These promises sound increasingly hollow.

On June 3 Ukraine's prime minister, Leonid Kuchma, announced that he thought Ukraine should postpone signing the NPT and retain, at least temporarily, the 46 SS-24 missiles not covered by START-1.

The third area of tension between Russia and Ukraine appears less scary but could cause the most problems. It involves the 12 million ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Some live in the Crimea, the one area which voted, albeit narrowly, against Ukrainian independence in a referendum in December 1991. A majority work in the rust belts of eastern Ukraine, which have no economic future.

Thus ethnic Russians live in the areas that will bear the brunt of the economic slump. Ukrainian leaders have begun to accuse dissatisfied ethnic Russians of being disloyal separatists but that is a charge that they vehemently deny.

Unless it is radically reformed, the Ukrainian economy will fall further behind. And mutual recrimination will grow.

How will the Russian government react? Yeltsin might have the political strength to resist calls to intervene. A successor might not. And thus could start a fraternal war between two nuclear powers.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 12, 2000

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