The story so far: Russia has launched a large-scale military operation against Ukraine. The act was described as a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine” by the country’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Loud blasts were heard from the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Odesa.
As Ukraine battles powerful Russian armed forces, leaders of the country have expressed regrets about giving up their nuclear weapons which they believe might have held off an invasion of their territory by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When did Ukraine give up its nuclear weapons?
At the time of its independence from the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine had the third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Things, however, changed when the country became a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1994 alongside Belarus and Kazakhstan, the other two countries that were left with nuclear weapons after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At the time of U.S.S.R. dissolution, Ukraine had an estimated 1,900 strategic warheads, 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), and 44 strategic bombers, according to the Arms Control Association of the U.S.
What is the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty?
The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) was a bilateral treaty signed by former U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. It limited the number of ICBMs and nuclear warheads that the countries could possess. The treaty went through a period of turmoil when the Soviet Union ceased to exist, casting aspersions on its legitimacy. Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus signed a protocol in Lisbon in 1992 making them “successor states” of the Soviet Union.
The treaty obligated the successor states to join the Nuclear NPT at the earliest and the nuclear weapons were to remain under the control of a “single unified authority” until then.
Following the Lisbon protocol, differences between Russia and Ukraine on the latter’s status as a nuclear state came to the fore, raising concerns related to nuclear disarmament.
After extensive political manoeuvring, Ukraine ratified Start in February 1994 when it signed the Trilateral Statement along with the U.S. and Russia. Ukraine committed to full disarmament in exchange for economic compensation and security assurances.
The country had accepted economic assistance from the U.S. to dismantle missiles, bombers, and nuclear infrastructure, and agreed to hand over its warheads to Russia to be dismantled there in exchange for compensation for the commercial value of its highly-enriched uranium.
Ukraine transferred its last nuclear warhead to Russia in 1996 and dismantled its last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in 2001.
What is the Budapest Memorandum?
The Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances is a political agreement between Ukraine, Russia, the U.K., and the U.S. It was signed in 1994.
According to the memorandum, signatories Russia, the U.S., and the U.K. agreed to respect the “independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” after the country agreed to give up its nuclear stockpile. Ukraine was also promised that its territorial integrity and political independence will be maintained and that the signatories will not use economic coercion against Ukraine to their own advantage.
Was the 2014 invasion of Crimea a violation of the Budapest memorandum?
Russia annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine, as its territory in March 2014. The move was criticised by governments around the world and called a direct violation of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. The Russian government, however, denied the charge and defended itself by raising questions about the legitimacy of the leadership in Kyiv.
- As Ukraine battles powerful Russian armed forces, leaders of the country have expressed regrets about giving up their nuclear weapons which they believe might have held off an invasion of their territory by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- After extensive political manoeuvring, Ukraine ratified Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in February 1994 when it signed the Trilateral Statement along with the U.S. and Russia. Ukraine committed to full disarmament in exchange for economic compensation and security assurances.
- Ukraine transferred its last nuclear warhead to Russia in 1996 and dismantled its last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in 2001.