MOSCOW -- After months of delay, the Ukrainian Parliament succumbed to international pressure and ratified the START-1 nuclear disarmament pact yesterday.
The vote, while overwhelming at 254 to 9, reflected a growing reluctance among Ukrainian politicians to give up the powerful bargaining chip nuclear weapons bestow upon them.
In an attempt to wrest every advantage from nuclear status, the Parliament attached heavy demands to ratification, agreeing to give up only 36 percent of Ukraine's missiles and 42 percent of its nuclear warheads.
Complete disarmament would require extensive financial payments and security guarantees from the West, according to reports from Kiev. Such guarantees are far from certain.
Ukraine estimates its nuclear weapons are worth billions. So far, the West has made suggestions in the millions.
"Ukraine has made its move, a solid and substantial move," said Serhiy Holovaty, a legislator and legal expert. "Now the ball is in the West's court. Implementation of the accord depends on the West. There are doubts whether the United States or Russia will give these guarantees."
The increasing reluctance to give up nuclear weapons might at first seem surprising in the country that suffered horribly from the world's worst nuclear accident. The explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant seven years ago quickly transformed Ukraine into the most rabidly anti-nuclear nation in Europe.
But over the last two years, Ukraine has developed an entirely different view of its nuclear status, one that diverges deeply from the view in Russia and the West.
When they declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainian leaders felt themselves free at last of centuries of Russian enslavement.
Since then, Ukraine has made a complete mess of its economy. Fresh milk is unavailable in Kiev, the heart of a once-rich agricultural nation. Stores have little food and long lines. The currency is nearly worthless. Inflation is running at 70 percent.
The Ukrainian government has consistently supported disarmament. But as the economy collapsed, the Communist-dominated, anti-market-reform Parliament began to fear Ukraine would fall prey to Russian influence once more.
There were arguments with Russia over territory and over the Black Sea fleet, and suspicions began to fester about Russia's intentions. The political fighting in Moscow made Ukraine insecure -- while Boris N. Yeltsin was renouncing imperialist ambitions, his conservative opponents were mourning the loss of empire.
"No one can say what kind of government Russia will have next year," said Konstantin I. Hrischenko, a deputy foreign minister responsible for disarmament in Ukraine. Ukraine felt it had no guarantees of anything.
Parliament began to consider nuclear weapons as the only absolute guarantee against a return to Russian domination.
Environmental Minister Yuri Kostenko pointed out in an interview last week that Ukraine does not have operational control of the nuclear arms on its territory. A Russian would have to push the button to fire a Ukrainian missile.
"Russia controls the launch," he said, "but their very existence on Ukrainian soil has stopped Russia from pushing us around. We do not control these weapons, but at the same time they protect us. That's the paradox."
However, Russia and the United States consider the weapons a non-proliferation issue.
START-1, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, requires Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to give up the nuclear weapons placed on their territory by the Soviet Union. Russia would take over ownership and then, according to the terms of START-2, would cut its nuclear stockpile by two-thirds. The United States would make the same reduction.
The West is also uneasy at the economic disaster in Ukraine, fearing it could lead to political chaos -- a fearsome prospect in a nuclear nation.
One indication of the Ukrainian Parliament's hardening nuclear position was its recent decision to reopen Chernobyl, a decision reached as energy prices charged by Russia rose.
Many Ukrainian politicians assert that the rest of the world only pays attention to Kiev when nuclear weapons are under discussion.
At a news conference in Moscow last week, Vladimir Kryzhanovsky, Ukraine's ambassador to Russia, complained that the world ignored Ukraine's economic needs.
"This is surprising for us," he said, "but perhaps this is right. A person who is seriously ill, let him die. What's the reason in helping him? And if a person is recuperating, or it looks like he can get well, this person should get help. We are very surprised that the international community is doing much for Russia, which has its own oil, gas, timber. . . . Russia has everything."