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INTERVIEW: President Leonid Kravchuk outlines Ukraine's position on nukes

The Ukrainian Weekly

Ukraine’s president, Leonid Kravchuk, granted an exclusive interview to IntelNews on January 12. Below is a translated transcript of that interview in which President Kravchuk speaks on nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Q: How do you view the START II document signed recently in Moscow by Russia and the United States, and what are the chances that there will be no obstacles there?

A: I view the signing as a positive step. Because the disarmament, destruction and reduction of nuclear weapons corresponds with our own policy. I am truly and sincerely happy about what has happened in Moscow – it is a continuation of earlier discussions and the signing of documents between the United States and the former USSR, now Russia.

However, I well understand that the ratification and fulfillment of START II depends on the degree to which START I is implemented, since START II does not impose any obligations on Ukraine. By now we should have had a nuclear-free state and at present there is a serious, thorough study of the START I package of documents in Parliament. These documents were submitted in November and, obviously, they are very voluminous. For this reason Parliament is currently studying it in commissions. The first deputy chairman of Parliament is due to meet with the commissions and we are forming the opinion (I have never taken any other position), that Parliament will ratify this document.

It is possible that Parliament will have three reservations. The first is a guarantee for Ukraine’s security from both nuclear and non-nuclear states – but primarily nuclear ones. In my opinion, they must take upon themselves some responsibility for guaranteeing Ukraine’s security on a political level, since in essence it now has on its soil the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world. And also because we voluntarily reject these weapons, which could so considerably change, if not all, then at least part of Ukraine’s policy. They think we will profit from this [the removal of the missiles]. I do not share this point of view, and neither does the majority of Parliamentary deputies.

The second involves compensation for Ukraine. In accordance with laws passed by Parliament, everything located on Ukrainian soil remains the property of Ukraine. In this case, our soil contains nuclear complexes that belong to us. We do not possess, and have no intention of possessing, the means of launching missiles. We are not trying to control the nuclear button and have never placed such a task before ourselves. We do, however, demand that without our knowledge nuclear rockets cannot be launched from Ukrainian soil. We have the ability to block such a launch. But our goal is the destruction of nuclear weapons. So long as they are located on our soil, we cannot relinquish this responsibility before the world and mankind.

The third problem is a purely ecological one, because 130 of the 176 rockets on our soil are powered by liquid fuel, each of them containing 100 tons of highly toxic compound. If we were to allow the firing of these rockets, then the territory of Ukraine would become a land of scorched and poisoned earth. There is no technology to convert this toxic fluid into a safe product. Neither in Ukraine nor in Russia. Thus, we cannot act as has been suggested to us: unscrew the nuclear warheads, ship them off to Russia, and be left with 13,000 tons of toxic liquid fuel. What we then do with this becomes another question. We will then be told to go jump in the lake, as has happened in the past. The main task will have been fulfilled, the nuclear warheads will have been dispatched. When people hint that we will profit from the removal of the rockets, that is quite untrue. We simply want this question to be resolved without detriment to our nation.

If we are to destroy the weapons, then let’s destroy them in a civilized way. If we were a rich nation, we would have had billions of dollars in our accounts and could have solved the problem ourselves. However, since the economy is in a crisis state, how can we solve the problem independently? Thus, we must look at solving the problem together, and as soon as a satisfactory solution is found, we must immediately begin destroying the nuclear arsenal.

Ukraine does not need nuclear arms. It is our misfortune that they are located on our soil. And though we would most heartily wish they were not there, the reality is that they are. We did not put them there, but they are tied to Ukraine, they influence our politics. To get rid of them is not so simple. These are not tanks, which can be cut up without any problems. There is an entire complex here, a living organism that must be stopped. We face three problems: safety, compensation and the environment.

Q: What guarantees of security would you like?

A: At least political ones. In early January I spoke with Boris Yeltsin by phone on the eve of our meeting. I said that firstly, we needed to sign an agreement on the process and mechanism of destruction, and the compensation. I asked him: “Why don’t you make a political declaration to Bush, Clinton, Major, Mitterand and the heads of other nuclear states?” Ukraine has already made such a declaration. And not only Ukraine, but also Belarus and Kazakhstan. Countries are voluntarily taking this step. Obviously, under the current unstable conditions, people around the world are worried. Countries are making these declarations that they will not abuse their superiority by threatening Ukraine and other states who are voluntarily setting an example of freeing the Earth of this nuclear filth.

Q: This declaration would be made by all nuclear powers?

A: At least separately. I am not ready yet to say how. In principle the declaration would serve to allay the fears of our people. It would also make it easier for me to address our Parliament. Bush has already sent me a letter in which he says that after the visit here by [U.S. senators] Nunn and Lugar $175 million will be provided by America after ratification of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Our calculations show this is only a drop in the ocean, and that more than $1 billion is needed to fully complete the operation. However, that is not the point. I am not posing the question this way: give us $2 billion and we will, give us $1 billion and we won’t. I am merely saying it must be decided in a civilized manner. America has taken a step, Russia must do likewise. We have already shipped out all our tactical nuclear weapons and have not received one cent of compensation.

Let’s put it this way: Ukraine participated in the manufacture of uranium, and the major part of it was produced here in Ukraine in Zhovti Vody. Although it was not enriched here; we sent it to Russia for processing. But the main work was done here. The USSR was built in such a way that the end product was manufactured not in Ukraine, not in Belarus, but in Russia. This was the policy of the Communist Party, to make all nations dependent on one nation. And I cannot complain, since this was a policy of defending one’s own nation.

I similarly have the right to defend my own people. And I can say that no one, if they are a member of the United Nations, should act like a bull in a china shop. They must be guided by international principles, instead of engaging in pressure tactics and attempting to live at the expense of others. Because I see now in the media that this pressure has begun.

We do not want to speculate on anything: We merely want a just resolution of this question so that we are not left holding the can. So that we are not first applauded and then forgotten. The countries of the world are nervous about the decision concerning this question, but obviously not because they want to defend our interests. They are defending their own interests. From my point of view, they are guided by two principles:

  • 1) That we do not have a second Yugoslavia here. If Russia and Ukraine become involved in a conflict, it will involve 215 million people and thousands of nuclear warheads.

  • 2) That nuclear weapons are not dragged off all over the world.

This is in the interests of all nations, including America. And both Bush and Clinton will defend the interests of the American people, while I will be defending the interests of Ukraine.

Q: Do you get the feeling that the U.S. is not being quite fair?

A: No. I am not talking at the moment about the U.S., Bush or Yeltsin. I am only saying that in the public mind the idea is being purveyed that Ukraine today wants to “play” at being a nuclear power. I want to show that this is not so. Such actions only serve to alienate Ukraine. I don’t wish to say who is engaging in this, however, I do have information that such a mass campaign is taking place to pressure Ukraine. I declare these [arms reduction] agreements will be ratified, but we need corresponding actions and concessions. The U.S. had already taken several positive steps. Once other countries follow suit, it will be even better, and then, with a 100 percent guarantee, I could appear before Parliament and say that the world community understands us, that we must act according to our policies. But if this doesn’t happen, then what will I say, what will I push for?

Q: So there must still be concessions from other countries?

A: Definitely.

Q: So you can’t approach Parliament to ask for a ratification now?

A: Today I could, however, I have doubts that I could answer all the deputies’ questions. For example, what guarantees of security does Ukraine have? What will I say, that we must hurry and join the European community? However, we are not joining yet and we are not being expected there with baited breath. These are only words and I have no convincing answer. And what compensation will Ukraine receive for each ton of uranium and plutonium removed? I will be told that the U.S. has announced they will buy this plutonium from Russia for 5.5 billion (U.S.). The deputies will ask how much of this Ukraine will receive? I have no answer.

Q: Who does this answer depend on?

A: On the U.S. and Russia. A lot now depends on Russia. First, it must make its position known, that it will really share this common property. Yes, Russia needs finances to destroy the rockets, however, everything must be calculated and justly divided between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. When I have answers to all these questions, then I can say that Parliament will vote to ratify the documents.

Q: It seems that “the gates have moved further away.” We have reached our goal, but now it appears we must continue on.

A: No. The signing of START I took seven years of work by experts. Ukraine did not take part in this. Now all this has fallen into Ukraine’s lap and we have been working at it since August. Ukraine has signed the Lisbon Protocol. And we received this document only in November. So I ask you: is two months’ work on a pile of documents too long? No one here is using delaying tactics. We cannot look at Parliamentary deputies as tin soldiers who unanimously raise their hands, as was the case in the past. Besides, many questions, both technical and economic, have yet to be decided. We have made only a political decision, but it does not take into account organizational, technical or economic guarantees. These must be taken into account, because we have 176 rocket complexes, which leaves us with 1,920 nuclear warheads.

Q: But these 176 complexes can’t be used against Russia. So from the point of view of security, how do they help?

A: You see, deputies could formulate it this way: 130 rockets were not built by us. Forty-six of the newer ones, with detachable multiple warheads which separate into 10-12 warheads, were built in Ukraine by Yuzhmash in Dnipropetrovske and at the Kharkiv Scientific Production Association. That is, they could put the question this way: 46 rocket complexes can be used directly by Ukraine, that is 500 warheads. In any case, this makes us the third-strongest nuclear power in the world.

Q: But this is obviously more theoretical than practical, since they were aimed in the other direction.

A: That all depends on information fed into the computers. This was all developed by us and it can all be changed by us.

Q: So this is a real Ukrainian force?

A: Yes, it is not only hypothetical. And we intend to divest ourselves of this. Once again I repeat our firm intention of not keeping any of the arsenal. However, the world must realize this is simply not useless “rubbish” standing on our soil. I repeat, technically, 46 complexes can be used. They are serviced by our staff and contain our guiding systems.

Q: Do you feel that Washington underestimates both the power, the role and the internal situation of Ukraine?

A: I think they have enough information about our possibilities. But they are also certain we will follow the path we have announced.

And I want to emphasize that both of us are correct. However, we must act together. Ukraine must be reckoned with as a state and not viewed as a part of Russia. One simple thing must be understood: Ukraine will not do as is ordered by others, be this Russia or any other government. It will do what is in the interests of its people, just as any normal country. I would like to find solutions that will accommodate both Ukraine and other countries. I think these exist. They are not so complicated, we require only good will.

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