Nuclear weapons and Ukraine
|Peak stockpile||1,080 warheads (1992)|
|Current stockpile||0 total|
|Maximum missile range||N/A|
|NPT signatory||Yes (1994)|
|Weapons of mass destruction|
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politics and government of
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the newly independent Ukraine had on its territory what was the third largest strategic nuclear weapons arsenal in the world. It was larger than those of Britain, France, and China combined. On June 1, 1996 Ukraine became a non-nuclear nation when it sent the last of its 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads to Russia for dismantling. The first shipment of nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia (by train) was in March 1994. In return for giving up its nuclear weapons, Ukraine, the United States of America, Russia, and the United Kingdom signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, pledging to respect Ukraine territorial integrity, a pledge that was arguably broken by Russia's 2014 invasion of Crimea. However, there is a dispute whether Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances is anything more than a general statement of intent, lacking the rigor of an international treaty and accompanying ratification procedure.
Ukraine had 220 strategic weapon carriers on its territory, including:
- 130 SS-19
- 46 sophisticated SS-24 missiles
- 25 Tu-95MS heavy strategic bombers carriers
- 19 Tu-160 supersonic strategic bombers carriers
- 1,080 long-range cruise missiles
- several hundred units of a tactical nuclear weapon
Already on July 16, 1990 the Verkhovna Rada adopted the Declaration of State Sovereignty of Ukraine where it announced that Ukraine will hold to the three non-nuclear principles: not to use, not to produce, and not to stockpile nuclear weapons. In November 1993, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution On the Ratification of the Treaty Between Russian Federation and USA On the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons of June 7, 1991 and the Lisbon Protocol to the Treaty of May 23, 1992. In his speech in parliament the Prime Minister of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma however advocated to preserve in Ukraine the most effective and powerful part of the Ukrainian nuclear arsenal—46 ICBM SS-24 which could have been kept for a long time.
The next stage was the signing on January 14, 1994 of the Trilateral Statement by the Presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States under which Ukraine was to destroy all nuclear weapons on its territory, including strategic offensive weapons. Ukraine, Washington and Moscow reached an agreement in January that allowed for the dismantling of Ukraine's 176 Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs) ahead of Kiev's formal ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). France and China provided unilateral security assurances in the form of diplomatic notes. The missiles—130 SS-18s and 46 SS-24s—carried about 1,800 nuclear warheads altogether.
Before voting on accession, Ukraine demanded from Russia, the USA, France and the United Kingdom a written statement that these powers undertook to extend the security guarantees to Ukraine. Instead security assurances to Ukraine (Ukraine published the documents as guarantees given to Ukraine), given on 5 December 1994 at a formal ceremony in Budapest (known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances), may be summarized as follows: Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine's borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.
Ukraine was scheduled to submit its instruments of accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear state and formally enter into START at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe summit in Budapest in December 1994. The Rada resolution on accession to the NPT, however, was ambiguous as to whether Ukraine was acceding as a nuclear or non-nuclear state, which was unacceptable to the Russians. The compromise reached after intense negotiations was to attach a diplomatic note from the President of Ukraine to the Rada resolution stipulating that Ukraine was acceding as a non-nuclear state.
The Trilateral Statement: Signed in Moscow, 14 January 1994 by the presidents of the United States, Russia, and Ukraine: Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, and Leonid Kravchuk. It details the procedures to transfer Ukrainian nuclear warheads to Russia and associated compensation and security assurances. It also sets out simultaneous actions to transfer SS-18 and SS-24 warheads from Ukraine to Russia for dismantling and to provide compensation to Ukraine in the form of fuel assemblies for nuclear power stations. It also provides economic support and technical aid from the United States to assist with dismantling the strategic nuclear arms, as well as security assurances to Ukraine from both the United States and Russia, once START I enters into force and Ukraine becomes a non-nuclear weapon state party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Between March 1994 and June 1996, about 2,000 nuclear munitions of strategic weapon systems were removed from Ukraine to Russia for disassembly. In all, considering tactical weapons, about 5,000 nuclear munitions were moved to Russia in almost 100 trains. On June 2, 1996 Ukraine officially lost its nuclear status.
In 1999 Ukraine exchanged eight Tu-160 and three Tu-95MS with Russia for its gas debts. Another nine Tu-160 and 21 Tu-95MS were destroyed, while one example of each plane were placed in a museum in Poltava.
In a joint statement on December 4, 2009 the presidents of the United States and Russia, Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, confirmed the assurances of security to Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus given on the heels of these countries' consent in 1994 to give up their nuclear weapons.
Not everyone in Ukraine shared a will to surrender nuclear weapons. On March 12, 1992 the President of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk suspended the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons from the territory of Ukraine.
The issue became most acute after the conflict surrounding the Tuzla Island in the Kerch Strait in 2003 and later during the Russia–Ukraine gas disputes. During that period the President of the Russian Federation Dmitriy Medvedev allowed himself to evaluate the foreign policy of Ukraine towards Russia as non-friendly on August 11, 2009. Medvedev accused officials in Kiev of impeding the Black Sea Fleet activities and that Ukrainian weapons were killing Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia. In his statement the Russian President accused Ukrainian politicians of discrimination of the Russian language, skewing the Soviet history on Holodomor and the Great Patriotic War, discriminating against Russian companies, and that Ukraine without acknowledgement of Russia negotiates gas prices with the European Union. On August 27, 2009 the Ternopil Regional Council petitioned to the President of Ukraine to denounce the Budapest memorandum and announce the revival of nuclear status.
James Sherr, a fellow at the Russian and Eurasian program at London-based think tank Chatham House, and key Western expert on Ukraine and Russia described Russia's conduct during the 17 December 2013 Ukrainian-Russian action plan as violating the Budapest Memorandum through means of economic coercion, stating "Coercion does not show respect for sovereignty. It is a violation of sovereignty. A number of European leaders are as persuaded as I am that Russia employed economic coercion."
According to the Budapest Memorandum, the signatories (including Russia) pledged to "Respect Ukrainian independence and sovereignty within its existing borders" and "Refrain from the threat or use of force against Ukraine". The Russian 2014 invasion of Crimea has been called a "blatant violation of Russia’s commitments, including the 1994 Budapest memorandum" by the Washington Post, among others.
- Power versus Prudence: Why Nations Forgo Nuclear Weapons by T. V. Paul, McGill-Queen's University Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7735-2087-5, page 117
- Estimated Russian (CIS) nuclear stockpile, September 1994, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (September/October 1994 - page 61)
- Washington Post Editorial Board. "Condemnation isn’t enough for Russian actions in Crimea". Washington Post.
- Laws of Ukraine. Ukrainian Parliament No. 995_098: Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Passed on 1994-11-16. (Ukrainian)
- Laws of Ukraine. Ukrainian Parliament No. 248/94-вр: Joining the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Passed on 1994-11-16. (Ukrainian)
- Ukraine and Russia: The Post-Soviet Transition by Roman Solchanyk, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, ISBN 978-0-7425-1018-0, page 92
- United States-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership, U.S. Department of State (December 19, 2008)
- Western Information Agency: USA, Russia confirm guarantees of security to Ukraine, Kyiv Post (December 4, 2009)
- Ukraine Special Weapons FAS
- Медведєв пішов на Ющенка боєм. ВІДЕО (Medevedev went into battle with Yushchenko. VIDEO). Ukrayinska Pravda. August 11, 2009.
- Тернопільська облрада вимагає від Ющенка відновити ядерний статус України (Ternopil Regional Council request from Yushchenko to revive the nuclear status of Ukraine). ZIK. August 28, 2009.
- "James Sherr: Ukraine ‘is in a dangerous situation’". Kyiv Post. 23 December 2013.
- Works related to Memorandum on Security Assurances Budapest, 5 December 1994 at Wikisource
- Works related to Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons at Wikisource
- Ukraine's Nuclear Ambitions: Reminiscences of the Past 13-04-2004
- The Trilateral Process: Washington, Kyiv, Moscow and the Removal of Soviet Nuclear Weapons from Ukraine March 9, 2009
- TREATIES ON THE REDUCTION OF STRATEGIC WEAPONS (START I & START II)
- Ukraine's last missile silo destroyed