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Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons. In 1994, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum and gave up its nuclear arsenal, the third-largest in the world at the time, in exchange for security guarantees.

On June 2, 1996, Ukraine lost its nuclear status when the last warhead was removed from the country. The country has fully respected its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state ever since.

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

Did Ukraine have nuclear weapons?

Yes, in 1991, Ukraine regained independence and inherited the nuclear weapons from the USSR that were located and produced on Ukrainian territory. Before signing the Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine was the third nuclear power in the world. 

How many nukes did Ukraine have?

After the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine inherited 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles in launch silos and more than 4,000 nuclear warheads. Ukraine also had 103 strategic bombers of various modifications.

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.

Ukraine then had to make its choice and agreed to nuclear disarmament in exchange for security guarantees from the international community.

When did Ukraine give up nuclear weapons?

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 exclusively under conditions of security guarantees from the nuclear states, including the USA and Russia. 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). France and China supported the Memorandum by signing the separate declarations.

Ukraine lost its nuclear status on June 2, 1996.

After having eliminated nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, Ukraine refused to use highly enriched uranium and removed all of HEU stock from its territory in 2012.

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 Donetsk and the Luhansk regions. 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.

A nuke in the hands of a madman

In the years following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has been frequently and unequivocally threatening to use Russia’s nuclear power in attempts to break Ukraine’s resistance and stop international support.

On February 29, 2024, in his address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Putin once again threatened NATO countries with nuclear war if they decided to send their troops to Ukraine. According to him, Russia is “from a military and technical point of view” fully prepared to use nuclear weapons. 

However, NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană believes otherwise.

“We have seen such use of nuclear threats from Russian leaders for at least two years since the war in Ukraine started. And this is from a nuclear superpower like Russia. This is highly irresponsible because when you possess such weapons, you also have an obligation to restraint. It is part of their arsenal of psychological pressure intimidation,” says the Deputy Secretary General in an interview for the Spanish newspaper El País 

It is clear that Russia does not care about international law and its legal obligations. No one has the right to blackmail the world with a radioactive disaster. And Russia is not an exemption. But it tries to be, with the constant attempts to rattle its nuclear arsenal. This nuclear blackmail has to stop.

Radiation and nuclear safety is the first element of the 10-point peace formula, presented by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It emphasizes the need to end nuclear threats from Russia, as well as its occupation of Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia.