Ukraine’s nuclear weapon stockpile was the third largest in the world after the fall of the Soviet Union. In December of 1994, Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum, which was a diplomatic document under which the involved countries made promises to each other, including Ukraine promising to remove all Soviet-era nuclear weapons and sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Ukraine kept those promises at the time, but after Russia’s annexation of Crimea some Ukrainians believe the Budapest Memorandum was rendered null and void even though it was not a formal treaty. Over the weekend, Minister of Defense of Ukraine Valerii Heletei declared Ukraine’s nuclear weapons programs could be restarted if they do not receive arms from NATO allies.
“I am drawing attention to Russia’s threatening Ukraine with the use of tactical nuclear weapons,” Heletei noted. “If we fail to defend Ukraine today, if the world does not help us, we will have to get back to the creation of such weapons, which will defend us from Russia.”
Speaking to Reuters, political commentator Daniel Patrick Welch said that if Ukraine’s nuclear weapons announcement is “real then it is suicidal. And if it is a threat then it is petulant.”
Walsh even went so far as to say many of the NATO allies are under the “jackboot of American control” and posited the idea that the Obama administration may have known in advance what Heletei was going to say before he said it.
“The Americans obviously put them up to everything they say. They know in advance. They know exactly what he is going to say…. The American political establishment wants to use Kiev as a spearhead against Russia. Make no mistake, this is exactly what is going on. Whether or not this particular statement was designed to increase tension and call Russia’s bluff or something remains to be seen.”
In general, much of the world has been dismissive about the real possibility of Ukraine restoring its nuclear capabilities. Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia said, “I’ve heard the one about a monkey and a hand grenade. But this is the first time I’ve heard of a monkey dreaming about a nuclear one.”
But if the threat becomes reality, Pyotr Topychkanov, coordinator of the Carnegie Moscow Center’s nonproliferation program, claims the world would treat Ukraine like North Korea.
“If Ukraine makes such a decision, it will essentially mean that its current political allies — the U.S., European Union and others — will have to abandon Kiev,” Topychkanov said. “Nobody will support Ukraine, not Europe or China. In practice it will be considered a rogue state, just like North Korea.”
Still, Ukraine’s nuclear weapons capabilities could not be easily rebuilt. The country has 15 nuclear power plants, uranium reserves, ICBM manufacturing plants, Soviet-era missile silos, and the scientific know-how. Even then, at best Ukraine’s WMD program could only hope to produce a functioning nuclear weapon within two years at the cost of $3.4 billion, although other experts consider a 10-year goal to be more likely. According to The Moscow Times, Ukraine could also create a dirty bomb with its available resources but it’s considered doubtful they’d want to go that route.
What do you think about the idea that the United States knew ahead of time about the threat of restoring Ukraine’s nuclear weapons program?