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DoesUkrainehavenuclearweapons?

Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal, but it still has the technologies to create nukes.

In 1991, Ukraine gained independence and inherited the nuclear weapons from the USSR that were located and produced on Ukrainian territory. At that time, Ukraine had the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world.

Intermediate-range ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead RSD-10 Pioneer. Ukrainian Air Force Museum in Vinnitsa.
Photo: George Chernilevsky

Why did Ukraine give up nuclear weapons?  

When Ukraine became independent, a critical question arose about the nuclear arsenal in its possession. Ukraine’s nuclear capabilities worried the USA and Russia the most. In the early 1990s, these countries focused their efforts on disarming Ukraine. These were uncertain times of change when new countries appeared on the world map after the collapse of the USSR and tried to take their place in the world order.

Russia began to make territorial claims and threats toward Ukraine immediately after it declared independence. Some Moscow media agencies even communicated theses about a possible “preemptive” strike on the territory of Ukraine for the sake of Ukrainian nuclear disarmament.

The young Ukrainian state had to choose between a close war and peace — and agree to nuclear disarmament in exchange for security guarantees from the international community.

When did Ukraine give up nuclear weapons?

Ukraine lost its nuclear status on June 2, 1996

Tactical nuclear weapons were removed from the territory of Ukraine already in May 1992, and Ukraine was ready to transfer strategic nukes only after receiving compensation and security guarantees from the USA and Russia. This agreement was signed in 1994, and the Parliament of Ukraine ratified it. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, dated December 5, 1994, was signed by Ukraine and three nuclear powers: the United States, Russia, and The United Kingdom. This document contained guarantees of the sovereignty and security of Ukraine as a country that voluntarily gave up its nuclear weapons and joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

US President Bill Clinton, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk sign the Trilateral Agreement on transferring nuclear weapons from Ukraine to Russia. Moscow, January 1994.
Photo: Joseph P. Harahan, historian of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency of USA

Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in exchange for protection. But. 

According to the Budapest Memorandum, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom undertook (summary):

  1. Respect the independence, sovereignty, and existing borders of Ukraine;
  2. No weapon of these countries will ever be used against Ukraine, except for self-defense;
  3. Seek immediate action by the UN Security Council to assist Ukraine if it becomes a victim of an act of aggression or the object of a threat of attack with nuclear weapons.
  4. Not to use nuclear weapons against Ukraine and other states participating in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.


And other.

Signing of the Budapest Memorandum. Photo: REUTERS


However, on February 20, 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine through Crimea and the eastern border to later occupy the peninsula and part of the Ukrainian Donbas. Thus, Russia began armed aggression against Ukrainians, which turned into a full-scale war on February 24, 2022.

Russia has violated all the principles of the Budapest Memorandum and is directly and cynically trying to destroy Ukrainian independence. 

Moreover, right now, Vladimir Putin frequently and unequivocally threatens Ukraine with Russia’s nuclear powers and demands that we give up our sovereignty to avoid becoming a victim of a nuclear war.

It is clear that Russia does not care about international law and its contractual obligations. It remains an open question whether Ukraine needs to keep its nuclear-free status in the future if the Budapest Memorandum did not protect it and its people.