The recent aggression of the Russians against Ukraine made me wonder whether the Ukranians regretted sending their nuclear weapons back to Russia after declaring their independence from the Soviet Union. I realized I needed a history review to better understand the situation. According to the Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State, the collapse of the Soviet Union arguably could be traced to Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to “…loosen the yoke of Soviet control over Eastern Europe.” That led to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the overthrow of Communist rule throughout Eastern Europe. The Soviet destabilization continued until the attempted coup by hard-line Communists against Gorbachev in August 1991. That failed coup led Ukraine and Belarus to declare their independence. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan had nuclear weapons at that time.
The Ukrainian Week states, “Ukraine had to give up its nuclear weapons to become a sovereign state and have its independence recognized by the entire world.” The people of Ukraine were dominantly anti-nuclear as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Also, the nuclear weapons had been produced by the Soviet Union, and retaining them would have tied Ukraine to the Soviet (later Russian) military industrial complex. Ukraine also judged that the criteria announced by the U.S. required that they disarm themselves of nuclear weapons to gain recognition. They remembered the sad experience of the 1920s when the West did not recognize Ukraine and it became a target of Bolshevik aggression. Recent events do not bode well for them trying a different approach to assuring their national sovereignty.
The Russians quickly transferred tactical weapons back into Russian territory immediately after Ukraine had declared its independence. There were 1900 strategic weapons remaining that were returned to Russia after the signing of the Budapest Memorandum in December of 1994. It was a political agreement signed in Budapest Hungry that provided security assurances relating to Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty of Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The Memorandum was signed by the Russian Federation and the United States. The United Kingdom, China and France “…gave somewhat weaker assurances in separate documents.” “The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine as well as those of Belarus and Kazakhstan. As a result Ukraine gave up the world’s third largest nuclear weapons stockpile between 1994 and 1996. (A Wikipedia article says the stockpile was larger than those of Britain, France, and China combined.)
After the Crimean crisis the U.S., Canada, and the U.K “…all separately stated the Russian involvement is in breach of its obligations to Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum, and in clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. “ I doubt the Ukranians who do not want to be controlled by Russia take much solace from the fact that dissolution of the Soviet Union has not changed the disregard for agreements by Russian politicians.