Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arms Deal Tops Agenda in Moscow the United States-Mediated Nuclear Arms Pact Is an Attempt to Avert a Potential Conflict between Russia and Ukraine - a Yugoslav-Type Ethnic War with Nuclear Weapons

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Arms Deal Tops Agenda in Moscow the United States-Mediated Nuclear Arms Pact Is an Attempt to Avert a Potential Conflict between Russia and Ukraine - a Yugoslav-Type Ethnic War with Nuclear Weapons

Article excerpt

IN their previous two meetings, Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin replaced cold war agendas of security and arms control with discussions of cooperation on economic reform and investment. But when the two men meet today in Moscow's Kremlin, the talk is likely to be more of nuclear warheads than oil pump heads.

The centerpiece of this three-day visit is a tripartite agreement to be signed tomorrow to finally eliminate the approximately 1,800 nuclear warheads that remain deployed in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine.

In one sense, this agreement is part of the long history of nuclear arms control that dates back to the early 1960s. If fulfilled, the deal would leave Russia the sole nuclear power in the former Soviet Union. Russia and the United States would then be free to ratify, carry out, and ultimately move beyond the deeper cuts in their nuclear arsenals agreed to in the START II disarmament treaty signed in January 1992.

But this deal is also the first security pact of the post-cold-war era. At its core, it is an attempt to avert a potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine, a Yugoslav-type ethnic war with nuclear weapons. And, in what may become a model for future conflicts within the former Soviet Union and throughout Eastern Europe, the agreement was impossible without the mediation of the United States.

In that sense, the US-mediated Ukraine deal fits well with the US-proposed Partnership for Peace, which NATO member nations endorsed at their summit in Brussels earlier this week. The Partnership plan allows gradual integration of former Soviet satellites, including former Soviet republics, in NATO, but avoids angering and isolating Russia by granting immediate membership or even a timetable for it.

The often unspoken issue that lies beneath the Ukraine agreement and the Partnership is the uncertainty over the future of Russia. In both East and West European capitals, the concern remains that a reinvigorated Russia, emerging from a economic crisis with its considerable military might intact, could again embark on an expansionist path. The success of extreme Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and other anti-Western forces in Russia's Dec. 12 parliamentary election has only served to give added credence to such worries.

The predominant Western policy response, reiterated in strong terms by President Clinton during his European visit, is to support Russian market and democratic reforms and to integrate Russia as rapidly as possible into Europe. But a tough undertone is also now visible, warning Russia that it must respect the permanence of the political and geographic boundaries that have emerged from the rubble of the Soviet empire. Back to the USSR?

"Russia must avoid any attempt to reconstitute the {Soviet Union}," US Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrote this week. "Its conduct toward other states must conform to international standards, avoiding the temptation to rely on the old Soviet practices of intimidation and domination. …

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