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Ukraine does not have nuclear weapons in its arsenal. 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.

Since joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty 28 years ago as a non-nuclear-weapons state, Ukraine has fully respected its commitments.

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.

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?

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

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 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 legal obligations.
Russia`s threats to use nuclear weapons are unacceptable and put the entire world at risk. The joint and decisive countermeasures are needed to prevent any possibility of nuclear catastrophe to happen.