KIEV, Ukraine — The Ukrainian Parliament ratified the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty known as START-I on Thursday--with so many "ifs" and "buts" as to render it ineffective.
Lawmakers voted 254 to 9 to limit the treaty's scope to about one-third of the nuclear missiles on Ukrainian soil and set conditions that would delay the dismantling of even those weapons well into the next century.
The vote, occurring less than a month after a visit here by Secretary of State Warren Christopher, defied strong pressure on Ukraine from the United States and Russia to renounce nuclear weapons and speed the process of world disarmament.
It also ignored an appeal by Ukraine's own president to apply the treaty to all 1,240 warheads on the 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles Ukraine inherited from the former Soviet Union's arsenal. Instead, Parliament committed Ukraine to remove just 63 multiple-warhead missiles from their silos, destroy those silos and take 520 nuclear warheads off the missiles.
The START-I treaty states that this disarmament process is to be completed within seven years of ratification. In Ukraine's case, that would have meant by November of the year 2000.
But Parliament ruled that the seven-year countdown would not start until the five traditional nuclear powers--the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China--all sign a security treaty with Ukraine, honoring its borders and pledging not to attack it with nuclear bombs, conventional weapons or "economic pressure."
So far, Russia has declined to drop territorial claims against Ukraine. And the United States is offering Ukraine nothing more than it guarantees any non-nuclear state: to refrain from attack with its own nuclear weapons and to denounce any country that does attack to the U.N. Security Council.
Ukraine's Parliament also made it clear that the pace of disarmament would depend on the inflow of unspecified sums in foreign aid to offset the cost of disarming.
That condition is also a problem. Ukrainian officials, struggling with one of the weakest economies in the former Soviet Union, have said that they need $2.8 billion for the entire arsenal; the Clinton Administration is offering $175 million.
Parliament's restrictions on the treaty were not unexpected, given its chronic resistance to disarmament since Ukraine gained independence from the Soviet Union two years ago. Supporters of the restrictions admitted they might be hard for other countries to accept.
"They are realistic if you take account of Ukraine's national interests," said lawmaker Serhiy Holovaty. "But they are not realistic from the standpoint of the West."
Visiting Kiev late last month, Christopher agreed to disburse some of the U.S. aid in the hope of prodding disarmament but left without agreement on how the process would proceed.
But he did extract a pledge from President Leonid Kravchuk to work for the inclusion of all 176 missiles in the START-I treaty. Kravchuk lobbied for that provision, urging lawmakers "not to play nuclear games," but they voted against it.
START-I was signed by Washington and Moscow in 1991, just before the Soviet Union fell apart. It called for eliminating 36% of the missiles and 42% of the warheads in the Soviet Union.
Ukrainian lawmakers reasoned that those percentages should apply to weapons in Ukraine. They ignored Kravchuk's signature on a May, 1992, protocol to the treaty agreeing that Russia would become the sole owner of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal.
Belarus and Kazakhstan, the other former Soviet republics that inherited parts of the arsenal, have ratified both the 1991 treaty and the 1992 protocol.