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Ukraine Leader Arrives in U.S. to Good News: Doubling of Aid

March 04, 1994|DOYLE McMANUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton, encouraged by Ukraine's agreement to dismantle nuclear weapons and its cautious turn toward economic reform, has decided to more than double U.S. aid to the strategically important country, officials said Thursday.

Clinton plans to announce the boost, from $330 million to about $700 million, after he has lunch at the White House with visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk today.

The quick increase reflects heightened interest by the Clinton Administration in Ukraine, the second-largest republic of the former Soviet Union and, with more than 1,600 nuclear warheads on its territory, the owner of the world's third most powerful atomic arsenal.

"We're bullish on Ukraine," a White House official said. "Kravchuk has made a remarkable turnaround in the last few months, on both nuclear weapons and economic reform."

On paper, Ukraine does not look like a sure thing. Its economy is in hyper-inflation, the ethnic Russian citizens of its Crimean peninsula have voted to secede, and Kravchuk himself--the one man who seemed able to hold the country together--announced last week that he does not plan to run for reelection.

But the picture may not be as bleak as it looks, U.S. officials insisted. "For the first time in two years, we now have a normal relationship with Ukraine, and we hope this is the start of something much better," the official said.

Besides, aides said, the United States needs to help Ukraine precisely because it has problems--and because its collapse could provide an excuse for Russian nationalists next door to reassert Moscow's claim to control.

Moreover, critics of the Administration have been complaining that the President has put too much emphasis on his relationship with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and too little on the other post-Soviet republics. "This should make senators of both parties feel better," one official said.

But Kravchuk, on his three-day stay in Washington, will not get one thing he wanted: stronger assurances that the United States and the West will guarantee Ukraine's security against Russian military attacks or economic pressure.

Clinton promised him assurances when he stopped in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in January to collect Kravchuk's agreement to dismantle his nuclear arsenal. But Kravchuk still has not succeeded in getting his Parliament to ratify the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, as Clinton asked.

Some of the aid increase to be announced today was unveiled in January.

But officials have scraped more millions of dollars together for Kravchuk's visit, including a major increase in the funds available to help dismantle the nuclear arsenal.

Kravchuk arrived in Washington on Thursday. His delegation included Olympic figure skating champion Oksana Baiul, a Ukrainian, who is to meet Clinton today.

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