Ukraine dismantled its last strategic bomber during a May 17 ceremony at an airfield in Uzin attended by senior U.S. and Ukrainian officials, almost two months after Kiev eliminated its final strategic air-launched cruise missile.
Ukraine must finish eliminating its strategic arms by the START I implementation deadline of December 5, 2001. To date, Kiev has destroyed 11 Tu-160 strategic bombers, 27 strategic Tu-95 bombers, and 483 Kh-55 air-launched cruise missiles. Another 11 heavy bombers and 582 strategic cruise missiles were transferred to Russia under a 1999 agreement as payment for natural gas debts. In addition, all of Ukraine’s 130 SS-19 ICBMs and associated silos and launch-control centers have been eliminated, as have 32 SS-24 ICBMs and their associated infrastructure.
Although all of Ukraine’s ICBMs have been removed from their launch tubes and have been destroyed, Kiev must still eliminate 14 SS-24 silos and three launch-control centers. Work to restore the sites fully is expected to continue until mid-2002.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine agreed to rid itself of the nuclear weapons left on its soil by joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state and by becoming a START I party. In June 1996, Kiev announced that the last of its estimated 3,000 tactical and 2,000 strategic nuclear warheads had been transferred to Russia.
Since 1997, under the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, the United States has assisted Ukraine with dismantling remaining heavy bombers, strategic air-launched cruise missiles, and ICBMs and associated silos and launch-control centers.
The CTR program will also help Ukraine eliminate its Tu-22M Backfire bombers, Tu-134 combat trainers, and Kh-22 air-launched cruise missiles. According to Defense Threat Reduction Agency spokesman Bob Bennett, although these weapons systems are not covered by the START agreement, given their capabilities, the United States feels it is “advantageous” to assist Ukraine with their dismantlement. CTR efforts in Ukraine are expected to be concluded by 2007.