Moscow Gives Reluctant Nod to Ukraine Military THE NEW SOVIET UNION

Article excerpt

THE Ukraine, for centuries an integral part of the Russian empire, is on its way toward establishing a cornerstone of independence: its own military. And it is doing so with Moscow's blessing and assistance.

In an interview, the Ukrainian defense minister said that he and the Soviet defense minister had agreed "in principle" in a Nov. 1 meeting here to have groups of experts from both of their ministries work out a bilateral agreement clearing the path for Ukrainian armed forces.

Under the projected accord, a portion of the Soviet troops based in the Ukraine will be "resubordinated" to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said Gen. Konstantin Morozov, the Ukrainian defense minister.

Soviet Defense Minister Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, said General Morozov, "has already decided to ... order ... the commanders of the three military districts deployed here ... to give up some officers to staff the Defense Ministry of the Ukraine."

The moves represent a reversal for both Marshal Shaposhnikov and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. As recently as Oct. 22, Mr. Gorbachev called republics' efforts to set up their own armies "dangerous" and "frivolous." On Oct. 20, Shaposhnikov told Soviet television he would not allow the division of Soviet forces or weapons.

Since then, the central Soviet government seems to have concluded it can no longer fight the centrifugal forces causing the country to break apart and that an amicable divorce is preferable to a destabilizing military standoff between the two largest republics, the Ukraine and Russia.

As Ukrainian defense minister, Morozov essentially has been a general without an army. Moscow now has opened the door to empowering him. Though he no longer answers to Moscow, soldiers serving in the Ukraine technically still answer to Moscow.

Since the Ukraine declared independence on Aug. 24, Shaposhnikov and the Ukrainian legislature, have been working out a concept of a Ukrainian army, navy, air force, and national guard totaling 400,000 to 420,000 troops for a population of 52 million people.

"This figure is a transitional one for the transitional period," says Morozov. "The figure can be as low as 200,000 to 250,000 troops," he continues. "I think the fewer troops we have the better it is both for the Ukraine and for our neighboring states, because we can devote more money to social programs, and other governments won't have the impression the Ukraine is becoming a militarized state."

Morozov is sensitive to Western criticism of the Ukraine's effort to establish its own military. …