(RIA Novosty)The Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced Friday it had scrapped its last strategic bomber dating back to the Soviet era in line with its international commitments.

A spokesman said the last of 60 Tu-22 Backfire strategic bombers had been dismantled in an act witnessed by the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst and defense ministry officials from both Ukraine and the United States at the Poltava Air Force Base.

Under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I), Ukraine has voluntarily destroyed all it nuclear weapons and reduced strategic offensive arms. The country should also finish scrapping its Kh-22 Burya (NATO codename AS-4 Kitchen) air-to-surface missiles in May 2006.

The START treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1991, five months before the collapse of the Soviet empire, which left four independent states - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan - with significant stockpiles of nuclear weapons on their territory. In 1992 the new states became parties to the START I treaty as legal successors to the Soviet Union.

Later, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, which had inherited strategic nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union, ratified joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear states.

From 1996 through 1999 Ukraine dismantled 29 Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95 Bear strategic bombers, and 487 Kh-55 Granat cruise missiles (AS-15 Kent), with another 11 bombers (3 Tu-95s and 8 Tu-160s) and 581 missiles transferred to Russia in 2000. Two Tu-95 bombers were transformed into reconnaissance aircraft for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and other two bombers (1 Tu-95 and 1 Tu-160) were sent to an aviation museum.


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