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Ukraine Looks to US For Substance Behind The Security Pledge

In arms pact, US sees a disarmed Ukraine. Kiev sees US protection.

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FROM Ukraine's point of view, success or failure of the trilateral nuclear arms accord signed last month in Moscow depends on Washington.

For Moscow and Washington, the main importance of the trilateral document, which formalized for the first time a geopolitical triangle, is Ukraine's commitment to finally get rid of the 1,840 Soviet nuclear warheads stationed on its territory. To that end, the United States and Russia offered a combination of financial compensation, economic aid, and a broad assurance of Ukraine's security.

For Kiev, the key element is the last: the security guarantee.

Ukraine's threat to keep its nuclear weapons has always been motivated by its fear that it would lose its independence, either de facto or de jure, to its powerful neighbor and former overlord, Russia. It seeks to trade those weapons only for political, economic, and implicit military guarantees of its security.

In the Ukrainian view, such security ultimately comes from the involvement of the US, from the creation of a triangle in which the US can act as a balance to Russia's preponderate strength.

In return for US backing, Ukrainian officials argue that their huge nation of 52 million can be, in essence, the outer rampart of the West against the threat of Russian neo-imperialism, symbolized by the rise of Russian extremist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Europe's front line

``Ukraine is a barrier to the expansion of the Zhirinovsky phenonenon,'' says Anton Buteiko, foreign policy adviser to President Leonid Kravchuk. ``Only Ukraine with its resources can withstand that phenomenon. That is realized in Europe and I believe in the US, too.''

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