Day in history: Ukraine gave up its Soviet nuclear arsenal because of broken guarantees
Until December 5, 1994, Ukraine was officially the third largest nuclear power in the world.
This year, Ukraine celebrated the 29th anniversary of the Budapest Memorandum, which provided for the transfer of Ukraine’s nuclear weapons, which it inherited from the Soviet Union after its dissolution, to Russia in exchange for a series of security assurances that would have guaranteed territorial integrity should sovereignty of a newly independent Ukraine.
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and then launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – even threatening to use tactical nuclear weapons – many Ukrainians questioned the historic 1994 decision.
As the war and discussions about postwar security guarantees continue, it may be worth revisiting the memorandum and understanding how a single decision continues to haunt a country nearly three decades later.
Soviet nuclear weapons in Ukraine before 1994
Due to Ukraine’s strategic location during the Cold War, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it inherited a massive nuclear arsenal alongside Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Its nuclear arsenal included nearly 1,700 strategic nuclear warheads, as well as a bomber fleet and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that rivaled most other nuclear-capable nations at the time. It is worth noting, however, that while Ukraine physically had the weapons and the expertise to develop and maintain them – although the lack of resources would likely have prevented it from doing so – Moscow retained control of these weapons.
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In comparison, the US stockpile of nuclear warheads in 1994 was 10,979, while estimates put Russia’s total number of nuclear warheads at 17,275 in 1991, with the number of nuclear warheads referring to strategic and tactical purposes.
The Budapest Memorandum on Security Guarantees is an international agreement aimed at addressing Ukraine’s security and territorial integrity concerns related to nuclear disarmament. It was signed on December 5, 1994 between Ukraine, the USA, Great Britain and Russia against the backdrop of post-Cold War global arms control. After the signing, then US President Bill Clinton called the world a “safer place.” Memorandum.
At that time, Donald M. Blinken, father of current US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was also present as US ambassador to Hungary.
The document marked the former Soviet state’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear weapon state after a series of talks in which Ukraine demanded guarantees and compensation for giving up its nuclear weapons stockpile.
Here are the six points laid out in the original document:
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine in accordance with the principles of the CSCE [Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe] Final Act to respect Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty and existing borders.
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm their commitment to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine be used except for self-defense or otherwise consistent with the Charter of the United Nations.
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine not to exercise economic coercion aimed at subordinating their own interests to the exercise of their sovereignty, in accordance with the principles of the CSCE Final Act inherent rights through Ukraine and thus securing advantages of any kind.
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate action by the United Nations Security Council to provide assistance to Ukraine as a non-nuclear weapon State party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation Nuclear weapons if Ukraine were to become the victim of an act of aggression or the subject of a threat of aggression involving the use of nuclear weapons.
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in the case of Ukraine, reaffirm their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear-weapon State that is a party to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the event of an attack on itself , its territories or dependent areas, its armed forces or its allies by such State in association or alliance with a nuclear-armed State.
- The United States of America, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will consult if a situation arises that raises questions about these commitments.
However, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continued in blatant violation of the terms set out in the memorandum, many questioned the effectiveness of such agreements and questioned whether Ukraine should have given up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s.
The failure of the memorandum has also raised an important question as Ukraine continues discussions about some form of postwar security guarantees: What good is an agreement if there is no way to enforce it?
According to a 1999 publication, Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament process was a gradual process that took several years.
Russia and Ukraine had been in talks since at least 1992, but no agreement was reached until the United States became involved in early 1994 and a trilateral agreement was signed.
Under the agreement, at least 200 nuclear weapons (including SS-19 and SS-24 ICBMs) would be transferred from Ukraine to Russia within 10 months, and the rest within “the shortest possible time.” All SS-24 missiles from Ukraine would also be deactivated and their warheads removed during the same period.
In return, Russia would send 100 tons of fuel for nuclear reactors to Ukraine over the same period.
According to the publication, although Ukraine transferred all remaining tactical nuclear weapons to Russia by 1992, the full disarmament process would not be completed until 1996.
“After some back and forth and delays, the first strategic warheads were loaded onto a special train in the last days of February and shipped from Ukraine in early March 1994. By November 1994, Russia had taken 400 strategic nuclear warheads from Ukraine. By June 1, 1996, all strategic nuclear weapons had been withdrawn from Ukraine,” the publication said.
Source : www.kyivpost.com