Ukraine a Challenge to US's Russia Policy

By Bohdan M. Pyskir. Bohdan M. Pyskir is a research fellow . | The Christian Science Monitor, February 25, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Ukraine a Challenge to US's Russia Policy

Bohdan M. Pyskir. Bohdan M. Pyskir is a research fellow ., The Christian Science Monitor

THE Western media have missed one of the biggest military stories since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A country so little known that writers must remind their readers it is about the size of France, emerged overnight as the world's third largest nuclear power and formed the second largest army in Europe. No one foresaw this radical and sudden military development: spy satellites could not pick up any military buildup or mobilization. Nor were there any indications that this country was engaged in an Iraqi -like nuclear weapons acquisition program.

The country is Ukraine. Its August 1991 declaration of independence not only changed the European balance of power, but helped accelerate the collapse of the Soviet Union - leaving the United States as the only real superpower. For US foreign policy, the dissolution of its traditional military rival and Ukraine's unexpected newfound status as a military nuclear power has become a vexing dilemma.

The formation of Ukraine's military might did not occur in secret. While still a Soviet republic, Ukraine's parliament announced in July of 1990 its intentions to build an independent army and thus break up the Red Army's nuclear, air, ground, and naval forces. But no one took this declaration seriously. The Soviet general staff all but ignored it. A Soviet Army marshal was dispatched to Kiev to point out to Ukraine's provincial parliament just how ludicrous the notion was. Half a year later, in August 1 991, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev recruited President Bush to scold these very same parliamentarians about the dangers of "suicidal nationalism" and to urge them to forget their far-fetched dreams of independence.

Only three weeks after Mr. Bush's so-called "Chicken Kiev" speech (when the US president went to Kiev and argued that Ukraine should stay in the Soviet Union) the Ukrainians declared their independence and went on to conduct one of the most brilliant military operations in modern history - gaining control of much of the Soviet Red Army.

The first phase of this operation precluded a possibility that the 700,000 Soviet troops in Ukraine could launch a coup against the newly independent state. This was done through massive propaganda aimed at pacifying the ranks. Ukrainian politicians promised to address the sub-standard living conditions in the military and guaranteed military job security. Equal opportunity for servicemen was stressed, regardless of nationality.

To drive the point home, an ethnic Russian was appointed the first defense minister of independent Ukraine. Not only did this effort pacify the armed forces, it also convinced a majority of the troops to vote for Ukrainian independence in the popular referendum on Dec. 1, 1991. For example, more than two-thirds of the Black Sea Fleet's sailor-supported independence.

A month after the referendum, troops stationed in Ukraine were given the option of taking an oath of allegiance. Officers who refused to take the oath were asked to continue their military service elsewhere, or retire. Enlisted men were given the choice of completing their military hitch in Ukraine or returning to their native country. Military personnel swore allegiance to the "people of Ukraine" rather than the "Ukrainian people." This wording was conceived to acknowledge the ethnic diversity of the Uk rainian state. Since ethnic Ukrainians constituted a minority of the officers stationed in Ukraine, this was particularly important.

BY mid-February 1992 more than 80 percent of the soldiers in Ukraine had taken the oath, despite objections from Russian politicians and Commonwealth of Independent States military officials. Thus, without firing a single shot and without any serious negotiations with other former Soviet republics, Ukraine gained control of a half-million-soldier military and most of its weapons.

This was a remarkable feat, especially considering that a majority of the officers who swore allegiance to Ukraine were ethnic Russians.

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