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Ukraine and weapons of mass destruction

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Prior to 1991, Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union and had Soviet nuclear weapons in its territory. On December 1, 1991, Ukraine, the second most powerful republic in the Soviet Union (USSR), voted overwhelmingly for independence, which ended any realistic chance of the Soviet Union staying together even on a limited scale.[1] More than 90% of the electorate expressed their support for Ukraine's declaration of independence, and they elected the chairman of the parliament, Leonid Kravchuk as the first president of the country. At the meetings in Brest, Belarus on December 8, and in Alma Ata on December 21, the leaders of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine formally dissolved the Soviet Union and formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine held about one third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world at the time, as well as significant means of its design and production.[2] 130 UR-100N intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) with six warheads each, 46 RT-23 Molodets ICBMs with ten warheads apiece, as well as 33 heavy bombers, totaling approximately 1,700 warheads remained on Ukrainian territory.[3] Formally, these weapons were controlled by the Commonwealth of Independent States.[4] In 1994, Ukraine agreed to destroy the weapons, and to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).[5][6]

Former military units

Ukraine and weapons of mass destruction is located in Ukraine
Positions of the former 43rd Rocket Army divisions in Ukraine

As a republic in the Soviet Union, Ukraine was the base for the following nuclear forces:


In 1993, International relations theorist and University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer published an article including his prediction that a Ukraine without any nuclear deterrent was likely to be subjected to aggression by Russia, but this was very much a minority view at the time.[8]

A study published in 2016 in the journal World Affairs argued that, in the opinion of the authors, the denuclearization of Ukraine was not a "stupid mistake", and that it is unclear that Ukraine would be better off as a nuclear state.[9] The study argued that the push for Ukrainian independence was with a view to make it a nonnuclear state.[9] According to the authors, the United States would also not have made Ukraine an exception when it came to the denuclearization of other post-Soviet states such as Belarus and Kazakhstan.[9]

The deterrent value of the nuclear weapons in Ukraine was also questionable: Ukraine had taken “administrative control” of the weapon delivery systems and implemented measures to prevent Russia from using them, but would have had to spend 12 to 18 months to establish full operational control over its nuclear arsenal.[9] The ICBMs also had a range of 5,000–10,000 km (initially targeting the United States), which meant that they could only have been re-targeted to hit Russia's far east.[9] The Soviet air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) had been disabled by the Russian military during the collapse of the Soviet Union, but even if they had been reconfigured and made to work by the Ukrainians, it is unlikely that they would have had a deterrent effect.[9] Had Ukraine decided to establish full operational control of its nuclear weapons, it would have faced sanctions by the West and perhaps even a withdrawal of diplomatic recognition by the United States and other NATO allies.[9] Ukraine would also likely have faced retaliatory action by Russia.[9] Ukraine would also have struggled with replacing the nuclear weapons once their service life expired, as Ukraine did not have a nuclear weapons program.[9] In exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons, Ukraine received financial compensation, as well as the security assurances of the Budapest Memorandum.[9]

Budapest Memorandum

On December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States signed a memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state. The four parties signed the memorandum, containing a preamble and six paragraphs. The memorandum reads as follows:[10]

The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,

Welcoming the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as non-nuclear-weapon State,

Taking into account the commitment of Ukraine to eliminate all nuclear weapons from its territory within a specified period of time,

Noting the changes in the world-wide security situation, including the end of the Cold War, which have brought about conditions for deep reductions in nuclear forces.

Confirm the following:

1. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.

2. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their obligation 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 except in self-defence or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

3. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine, in accordance with the principles of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, to refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind.

4. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm their commitment to seek immediate United Nations Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine, as a non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, if Ukraine should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used.

5. The Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America reaffirm, in the case of Ukraine, their commitment not to use nuclear weapons against any non-nuclear-weapon State party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, except in the case of an attack on themselves, their territories or dependent territories, their armed forces, or their allies, by such a State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.

6. Ukraine, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America will consult in the event a situation arises that raises a question concerning these commitments.

— Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons[10]

France and China's commitments

France and China also provided Ukraine with assurances similar to the Budapest Memorandum, but with some significant differences. For instance, France's pledge does not contain the promises laid out in paragraphs 4 and 6 above, to refer any aggression to the UN Security Council, nor to consult in the event of a question regarding the commitments.[11]

China's pledge takes a different form entirely, dating from December 4, and reading as follows:[12]

  • The Chinese Government welcomes the decision of Ukraine to destroy all nuclear weapons on its territory, and commends the approval by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on November 16 of Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear-weapon State. China fully understands the desire of Ukraine for security assurance. The Chinese Government has always maintained that under no circumstances will China use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon States or nuclear-weapon-free zones. This principled position also applies to Ukraine. The Chinese Government urges all other nuclear-weapon States to undertake the same commitment, so as to enhance the security of all non-nuclear-weapon States, including Ukraine.
  • The Chinese Government has constantly opposed the practice of exerting political, economic or other pressure in international relations. It maintains that disputes and differences should be settled peacefully through consultations on an equal footing. Abiding by the spirit of the Sino-Ukrainian joint communiqué of January 4, 1992 on the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Sino-Ukrainian joint communiqué of October 31, 1992 and the Sino-Ukrainian joint statement of September 6, 1994, China recognizes and respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and stands ready to further develop friendly and cooperative Sino-Ukraine relations on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Thus, China's pledge, similar to France's, does not pledge to involve UN or consultative mechanisms in case of crisis. However, it does pledge to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Removal of Soviet nuclear weapons

Russian forces withdrew nuclear weapons and delivery systems from the Crimean peninsula after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, in the mid 1990s, with the exception of some nuclear-capable ships and submarines of the Black Sea Fleet stationed in accordance with agreements with Ukraine.[13] After the 2014 annexation, the Russian Federation again deployed nuclear-capable weapons to the peninsula, including S-300 antiaircraft missiles, and later Tu-22M3 Backfire bombers and Iskander-M ballistic missiles.[13][14][15] In 2020, a Ukrainian NSDC official stated that Russia had done work on Soviet nuclear-weapons storage facility Feodosiia-13 in Krasnokamianka (Kyzyltash), and had added new tunnels to a nuclear submarine base at Balaklava.[16]

2014 annexation of Crimea

Despite Russia's claimed annexation of Crimea, which the UN General Assembly rejected as invalid,[17] the Government of Ukraine in 2014 reaffirmed its 1994 decision to accede to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapon state.[18]

Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament told USA Today that Ukraine may have to arm themselves with their own nuclear weapons if the United States and other world leaders do not hold up their end of the agreement. He said "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement. Now, there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake."[19] He also said that, "In the future, no matter how the situation is resolved in Crimea, we need a much stronger Ukraine. If you have nuclear weapons, people don't invade you."[20] On December 13, 2014 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated that he did not want Ukraine to become a nuclear power again.[21]

In July 2014 the Russian foreign minister stated that his country had the right to defend Crimea using nuclear weapons,[22] and in March 2015 president Putin said that during the invasion of Crimea he’d been prepared to put nuclear forces on alert.[23] Around the same time, a Russian foreign ministry official said that Russia had the right to deploy nuclear arms to the peninsula which is internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory.[24]

2021–2022 renewed tensions with Russia

On April 15, 2021, Andriy Yaroslavovych Melnyk, Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, told Deutschlandfunk radio that if Ukraine was not allowed to become a NATO member, his country might have to reconsider its status as a non-nuclear weapon state to guarantee its defense.[25][26]

In February 2022 (in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine), Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky renewed such sentiments, suggesting that Ukraine would potentially view the Budapest Memorandum as invalid should its security guarantees not be met.[27]


As of 2022 only three Ukrainian parties support bringing back nuclear weapons: Svoboda,[28] Radical Party of Oleh Liashko,[29] and The National Corps.[30]

See also

Reference list

  1. ^ Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p1976 ISBN 9783832956097
  2. ^ Dahlburg, Decemb. "Ukraine Votes to Quit Soviet Union : Independence: More than 90% of Voters Approve Historic Break with Kremlin. The President-elect Calls for Collective Command of the Country's Nuclear Arsenal". LA Times. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  3. ^ Norris, Robert S. (January–February 1992). "The Soviet Nuclear Archipelago". Arms Control Today. Arms Control Association. 22 (1): 24–31. JSTOR 23624674.
  4. ^ Hanley, Jeremy (June 22, 1993). "Nuclear Weapons". Hansard. UK Parliament. Column 154. Retrieved September 9, 2018. The Minister of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Jeremy Hanley): ... Some weapons are also possessed by Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, but these are controlled by the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  5. ^ William C. Martel (1998). "Why Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons : nonproliferation incentives and disincentives". In Barry R. Schneider, William L. Dowdy (ed.). Pulling Back from the Nuclear Brink: Reducing and Countering Nuclear Threats. Psychology Press. pp. 88–104. ISBN 9780714648569. Retrieved August 6, 2014. There are some reports that Ukraine had established effective custody, but not operational control, of the cruise missiles and gravity bombs. ... By early 1994 the only barrier to Ukraine's ability to exercise full operational control over the nuclear weapons on missiles and bombers deployed on its soil was its inability to circumvent Russian permissive action links (PALs).
  6. ^ Alexander A. Pikayev (Spring–Summer 1994). "Post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine: Who can push the Button?" (PDF). The Nonproliferation Review. 1 (3): 31–46. doi:10.1080/10736709408436550. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 8, 2014.
  7. ^ Michael Holm, 46th Missile Division
  8. ^ The Case for a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent[1] retrieved 23/01/2022
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Budjeryn, Mariana (September 1, 2016). "Was Ukraine's Nuclear Disarmament a Blunder?". World Affairs. 179 (2): 9–20. doi:10.1177/0043820016673777. ISSN 0043-8200. S2CID 151341589.
  10. ^ a b "Budapest Memorandums on Security Assurances". Retrieved December 12, 2014.
  11. ^ Page K-8, Full text in French of France's Security Assurance to Ukraine
  12. ^ Letter dated 12 December 1994 from the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, from UN Office of Disarmament Affairs
  13. ^ a b Kristensen, Hans (December 18, 2014). "Rumors about Nuclear Weapons in Crimea". Federation of American Scientists. Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  14. ^ Sharkov, Damien (July 22, 2015). "Russia Reported to be Stationing Supersonic Bombers in Crimea". Newsweek. Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ Axe, David (February 3, 2020). "Why Is Russia Stationing TU-22m3 Backfire Bombers in Crimea?". Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  16. ^ "Possible deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in Crimea to endanger whole Europe – NSDC". Unian. November 15, 2020. Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ General Assembly Adopts Resolution Calling upon States Not to Recognize Changes in Status of Crimea Region, GA/11493 27 March 2014.
  18. ^ Joint Statement by the United States and Ukraine, March 25, 2014.
  19. ^ Dorell, Oren. "Ukraine May Have to Go Nuclear, Says Kiev Lawmaker". USA Today. Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  20. ^ Koren, Marina. "The Ukraine Crisis Is Unsettling Decades-Old Nuclear-Weapons Agreements". Retrieved April 15, 2014.
  21. ^ Ukraine has no ambitions to become nuclear power again – Poroshenko, Interfax-Ukraine (December 13, 2014)
  22. ^ Keck, Zachary (July 11, 2014). "Russia Threatens Nuclear Strikes Over Crimea". The Diplomat. Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ "Ukraine conflict: Putin 'was ready for nuclear alert'". BBC News. March 15, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  24. ^ "Russia declares right to deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea". March 12, 2015. Retrieved August 24, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ "Ukraine mulls nuclear arms if NATO membership not impending: Envoy". Daily Sabah. April 15, 2021.
  26. ^ "Ukrainischer Botschafter: "Wir brauchen militärische Unterstützung"" [Ukrainian Ambassador: "We need military support"]. April 15, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2022.
  27. ^ "Zelensky: Ukraine may reconsider its nuclear status". UAWire. February 19, 2022.
  28. ^ Olszański, Tadeusz A. (July 4, 2011). "Svoboda Party – The New Phenomenon on the Ukrainian Right-Wing Scene". Centre for Eastern Studies. OSW Commentary (56): 6. Retrieved September 27, 2013.
  29. ^ "Ukraine election: What to look for". BBC News. October 24, 2014. Retrieved November 29, 2017.
  30. ^ "Volunteer battalion Azov members and former members create National Corps political party". Interfax-Ukraine. October 14, 2016. Retrieved December 5, 2017. (Ukrainian language version)

Further reading

  • Kostenko, Y., & D’Anieri, P. (2021). Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History (S. Krasynska, L. Wolanskyj, & O. Jennings, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

External links