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Reaping Wheat, Not War in Central Ukraine

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

KIEV, UKRAINE, Jan. 5, 1996 – The launch keys that would have sent six nuclear warheads hurtling toward the United States were turned today. Instead of raining nuclear devastation on America, they were set to self-destruct.

U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry, Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Shmarov and Russian Federation Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Grachev turned three identical keys in a specially designed detonator to blow up an SS-19 missile silo. The explosion at a missile base in Pervomaysk, about 150 miles south of Kiev, was another step toward reducing the threat of nuclear holocaust.

"I have spent my entire career as a Cold Warrior, making and designing the weapons of war," Perry said after the blast. "Now the Cold War is over; it is time to destroy these fearsome weapons of destruction."

Perry said he was honored to join his colleagues to accomplish the day's task. "By our act today, we will be turning a missile field into a wheat field."

At one time, the fertile farmland near Pervomaysk was considered the breadbasket of the Central Europe, a DoD spokesman said. Agricultural production fell off, however, under the Soviet system. The site became the home of the now-demobilized Soviet Rocket Forces. It grew into the world's largest missile base with nearly 1,900 warheads on 176 missiles.

In March 1994, the Ukrainians removed the warheads from the silo destroyed today. They removed the missile in March 1995. Perry was on hand for both events, and he said he looks forward to seeing the fourth and final step of the denuclearization process this summer: the missile field completely returned to a wheat field.

Like Perry, Grachev has also witnessed the destruction of his former foe's nuclear weaponry. Last fall, he helped Perry blow up a Minuteman II silo at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The American and Russian defense chiefs pushed a special two-button detonator sending smoke and debris skyward above a cornfield in America's heartland.

"I am happy that we are destroying these weapons we created," Grachev said after the Pervomaysk detonation. He said it was a terrible waste of effort for the three nations to have ever built the weapons to begin with.

"The money that was wasted on them, which was taken from the peoples of our countries," Grachev said, "could have been used to better their social conditions and solve the social conditions that exist in the United States, Ukraine and in Russia."

A second stop on the ministers' itinerary was canceled due to weather. They were slated to be at an official housewarming for the first family moving into a U.S.-funded housing project for former Russian officers. The Pervomaysk project is scheduled for June completion. Perry said the ministers agreed to return in June when about 100 families will have moved in and there isn't as much ice and snow on the ground.

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