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Ukraine Suspends Removal of Tactical Nuclear Weapons With AM-Soviet-Unrest

March 12, 1992

MOSCOW (AP) _ Ukraine on Thursday halted the shipment of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia for dismantling, adding to growing worries about the control of atomic arms in the former Soviet Union.

The action came the same day a senior official was quoted as warning that breakdowns in security have increased the risks that nuclear weapons will be stolen in places such as Nagorno-Karabakh, the war-torn southern enclave.

Ukraine’s president, Leonid Kravchuk, said in Kiev that he wants firm assurances the weapons will be destroyed rather than redeployed by Russia. He suggested Western nations help Ukraine build its own dismantling facility.

″We want guarantees that they can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to make anybody else stronger,″ he said.

The unexpected announcement, coming a week before the start of a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Kiev, appeared certain to widen the rift between Russia and Ukraine, the two largest former Soviet republics.

They already are at odds over the future of Crimea and are vying for control over the Black Sea Fleet and military aircraft based in Ukraine.

About a quarter of the Soviet Union’s 17,000 tactical - or battlefield range - nuclear warheads were based in Ukraine. Kravchuk said earlier this week that 57 percent of them had been taken to Russia for destruction so far.

Ukrainian leaders repeatedly have pledged to eliminate all nuclear weapons based on their territory by 1994. The strategic, or long-range, nuclear arms in Ukraine include 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the United States.

″We have not changed our main concept. We want to remain non-aligned, nuclear-free and eventually a neutral state,″ Kravchuk said at a news conference on the eve of his 100th day as Ukraine’s first freely elected president.

Commonwealth states have agreed that special troops will maintain unified control over all nuclear weapons. But their bickering over other issues has raised concerns about the security and safety of strategic and tactical nuclear warheads as well as aging nuclear power plants.

Gennady Novikov, security chief at Chelyabninsk-70, one of the top secret cities where the Soviet Union produced all its nuclear weapons, warned Thursday that ″there is no reliable state control″ over atomic arms.

″Taking into account the political and psychological situation, there is no doubt that security has sharply deteriorated,″ he was quoted as saying by the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Novikov said the disintegration of the Soviet Union and conflicts among the newly independent republics raised many worries, such as nuclear terrorism.

″A possibility of premeditated seizure of nuclear weapons for certain purposes″ must be considered, he was quoted as saying.

He said it was an ″open secret″ the Soviet Union had to remove nuclear weapons from unstable regions such as the Caucasus Mountains where ethnic violence has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years.

Russian Vice President Alexander Rutskoi said Wednesday, however, that nuclear weapons remained in Armenia and Azerbaijan. Militants from the two Caucasus states have been fighting for four years over Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave inside Azerbaijan, and combat has been escalating.

Rutskoi said he was ″1,000 percent certain″ the arms would not fall into the hands of the militants.

A commonwealth officer denied Thursday that any warheads remained in the region. Lt. Gen. Vladimir Korotkov, deputy chief of the Joint Armed Forces’ Main Department, told Interfax news agency that the last warheads were removed in 1990 from the district that includes Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

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