Ukraine’s renunciation of nuclear weapons in 1991 and security assurances

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine left about 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads on its territory — making it the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal at the time.

After lengthy and complex negotiations, Ukraine, Russia, and the United States reached an agreement called the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances in December 1994. Under the terms of the agreement, Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear warheads and join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. In exchange, Ukraine received security assurances from the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum-Russia, the U.S., and the U.K.

But unlike the North Atlantic Treaty or the NPT, the Budapest Memorandum is not a legally binding treaty with an enforcement mechanism. It provides security, not security guarantees — specific guarantees for specific situations such as intrusions.

The signatories “reaffirmed” the following five points in the Memorandum:

> Respect for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and existing borders

> Refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine

> Refrain from economic coercion against Ukraine.

> Seek immediate Security Council action to provide assistance to Ukraine if they “should become a victim of an act of aggression or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used”…

>Refrain from the use of nuclear arms against Ukraine

Judging from the content of the Budapest Memorandum, the United States did not violate or “ignore” any of the five commitments reaffirmed in the security agreement. Russia, on the contrary, has repeatedly violated its security commitments to Ukraine:

>Annexation of Crimea in 2014

>Support for pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, escalating proxy wars in eastern Ukraine.

>Launches full-scale invasion of Ukraine and puts nuclear weapons on high alert

Of course, the United States has a moral responsibility to provide assistance to Ukraine … It indeed did.

China, though not a signatory of the Budapest Memorandum provided Ukraine with similar security guarantees in 2013.

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ANBOUND is a multinational independent think tank, specializing in public policy research, incl. economy, urban and industry, geopolitical issues. Est. 1993.