Ukraine’s Nuclear Ambitions: Reminiscences of the Past
No. 2 2004 April/June
Yuri Dubinin

Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation. In 1994-1999, he was Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation.

The crisis of the nuclear nonproliferation regime, developing in
the face of the growing threat of international terrorism and the
desire of some countries to obtain the most deadly of weapons,
motivates the international community to find new ways to
counteract these developments. In the early 1990s, the author of
this article participated in negotiations for the nuclear
disarmament of Ukraine, a former Soviet republic which received its
full independence in 1991. The ‘nuclear disarmament’ of Kiev, whose
nuclear arsenals exceeded those of Britain, France and China
combined, took more than two years of negotiations. The following
details reminiscences about those negotiations. I hope our
experience will be of use to those who must address similar
problems with other countries, in a totally changed global


On July 31, 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet
Union, the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Treaty on
the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-1),
the first treaty of its kind in history. However, before it was
ratified, the Soviet Union broke up, and there emerged four new
states armed with nuclear weapons – Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia (as
the successor to the Soviet Union, it inherited the right to
nuclear status) and Ukraine. As a result, the entire project of
strategic offensive arms reduction stalled. The START-2 agreement,
signed by Russia and the U.S. in early 1993, became a hostage of
the START-1 ratification. Meanwhile, the signatories to the Treaty
on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) planned to hold a
conference in the spring of 1995 to discuss the treaty’s extension,
and the newly independent countries were expected to join.

Belarus and Kazakhstan made no public claims to nuclear status,
and nobody expected any surprise moves from Ukraine, either. The
Declaration of State Sovereignty, adopted by the Supreme Soviet
(parliament) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on July 16,
1990, proclaimed Ukraine’s intention to “become in the future a
permanently neutral state that will not participate in military
blocs and that will abide by three non-nuclear principles: no
entry, no production, and no possession of nuclear weapons.” The
non-nuclear status was reiterated by the Ukrainian parliament after
Ukraine became independent.

On December 30, 1991, the leaders of the Commonwealth of
Independent States, established by former Soviet republics, met in
Minsk, Belarus, where they agreed that “a decision to employ
nuclear weapons shall be made by the President of the Russian
Federation by agreement with the leaders of the Republic of
Belarus, the Republic of Kazakhstan and Ukraine, and upon
consultations with the leaders of the other member states of the
Commonwealth.” The CIS leaders also agreed that until the
elimination of the nuclear weapons deployed in Ukraine was
completed, these weapons must be placed under the control of the
Strategic Forces joint command in order to ensure their
non-employment and disassembly. The deadline for the disassembly
was set for the end of 1994, while the deadline for tactical
nuclear weapons was July 1, 1992.

On April 18, 1992, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine signed
an agreement that stipulated procedures for removing nuclear
munitions from the territory of Ukraine to sites in Russia for
their further disassembly and elimination. In May, all tactical
nuclear weapons were removed from the Ukrainian territory.

Finally, in 1992, Kiev raised the issue of recognizing Ukraine,
Kazakhstan and Belarus as parties to the START Treaty by agreement
with the U.S. Moscow and Washington supported this proposal. In a
May 7 letter to U.S. President George Bush, his Ukrainian
counterpart, Leonid Kravchuk, guaranteed the elimination of all
nuclear weapons, including strategic offensive armaments that were
deployed on the territory of Ukraine “within a period of seven
years, as stipulated by the START Treaty, and in the context of the
Statement on the Non-Nuclear Status of Ukraine.”

On May 23, 1992, Russia, the United States, Ukraine, Kazakhstan
and Belarus signed the Lisbon Protocol, in which all of these
countries became parties to the START Treaty. Article 5 of the
protocol bound Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan to join the NPT “as
non-nuclear weapon states Parties in the shortest possible

The Lisbon Protocol also provided for the START Treaty’s
ratification, together with the Protocol, by all the five
signatories. Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus were to
exchange instruments of ratification with the U.S., and the treaty
was to enter into force on the day of the last exchange of these
instruments. Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus were also compelled to
join the NPT.

Belarus ratified the START Treaty on February 4, 1993, and
joined the NPT on August 22. Kazakhstan ratified START on July 2,
1992, and joined the NPT on February 14, 1994. On October 1, 1992,
the U.S. Senate gave the green light to the ratification of START,
stating that Kravchuk’s May 7 letter to Bush was as valid as the
provisions of START. On November 4, 1992, the treaty was ratified
by the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation.

 Meanwhile, there appeared alarming tendencies in Ukraine’s
position. Shortly after the country became independent, it began to
revise the principles of its foreign policy and its attitude to
nuclear weapons. At first, Kiev dissociated itself from all
agreements concluded within the CIS framework, as well as those
pertaining to the common military strategic space. None of the
military units stationed in Ukraine and armed with strategic
nuclear weapons were included in the CIS Strategic Forces.

Moreover, in April 1992, Ukraine absorbed the Strategic Forces
units that were stationed on its territory into the Ukrainian army.
It should be noted that operational maintenance of nuclear
munitions is a complex of sophisticated operations. Emergency
operational maintenance of nuclear munitions must be performed at
the manufacturer’s site. Formerly, the maintenance of munitions was
controlled from one center, which was at one of the main
directorates of the Defense Ministry of the Soviet Union, and later
Russia. However, once the Strategic Forces stationed on its
territory were under Ukrainian control, this threw the nuclear
munitions maintenance into confusion. The criteria for access to
the nuclear munitions became increasingly vague.

On December 11, 1992, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry sent a
memorandum on nuclear policy issues to all the embassies accredited
in Kiev. In it, Ukraine raised the issue of its “right to own all
components of nuclear warheads… deployed on its territory.”
According to the NPT, the nuclear status of a state implies its
possession of “nuclear weapons” or “other nuclear explosive
devices.” By avoiding these terms in the memorandum and using in
their place the words “all components of nuclear warheads,”
Ukrainian diplomats sought to evade possible accusations that it
was a claim to the possession of nuclear weapons – although “all
components of nuclear warheads” are necessary for constructing a
“nuclear explosive device.”


The nuclear issue was the highlight of the Russian and Ukrainian
presidents’ meeting in Moscow on January 15, 1993. President Boris
Yeltsin said Russia was ready to give Kiev security guarantees
before Ukraine ratified START-1 and joined the NPT. Those
guarantees would enter into force after Ukraine became a party to
the two treaties.

The presidents instructed their governments to immediately enter
into negotiations in order to resolve the many difficult issues
pertaining to the implementation of START-1. These would include
the terms for the disassembly, transportation and elimination of
nuclear munitions deployed in Ukraine, and the recycling of nuclear
components for use as fuel at Ukrainian nuclear power plants.

 I was instructed to head the Russian delegation, and the
Ukrainian delegation was led by Yuri Kostenko, the minister of the
environment and the leader of the Ukrainian Supreme Soviet’s
special working group set up to prepare START ratification. Before
we met, Kostenko, who was also one of the leaders of the
nationalist Rukh party, had said that the negotiations could
continue for another 20 or 30 years. But it was obvious to both of
us that the nuclear issue, so vital for strategic stability, needed
to be resolved within the shortest possible period of time.

I decided against putting forward any demand proposals for
Ukraine. There were no alternatives to the plan set forth by
Russia, since it proposed the maximum of what it could do. We
planned to acknowledge this straightforward approach to Ukraine
from the very outset of the negotiations in order to prevent any
delay or bargaining chip. We defined the best possible conclusion
of the negotiations that would fully meet all of the interests of

– all nuclear munitions of strategic nuclear weapons deployed on
the territory of Ukraine would be transported to Russia and
disposed of;

– Ukraine would receive fuel for its nuclear power plants as
compensation in the amount equivalent to the amount of fissionable
materials extracted from the nuclear munitions removed from its

The negotiations began on January 26 at the Irpen rehabilitation
center of the Defense Ministry near Kiev. In his introductory
speech, Kostenko suddenly announced that Ukraine had a “right to
own the nuclear munitions.” The speech contained no more intricate
wordings like those used in the Foreign Ministry memorandum (the
right to own all components of nuclear warheads). Kostenko said
that “Ukraine has made no decision yet as to where the nuclear
munitions would be disassembled, and weapon-grade uranium and
plutonium recycled.”

Ukraine’s statement that it was the owner of nuclear weapons
located on its territory was, in fact, a claim to being a nuclear
power. In a reply statement, I responded that this statement meant
a change in Ukraine’s position on nuclear weapons. It signaled a
retreat from the commitments assumed by Ukraine in its official
acts and in the international documents signed by it within the CIS
framework and in Lisbon. Naturally, it was up to Ukraine, as a
sovereign and independent state, to decide what policy it should
pursue. But Russia, as a nuclear state and a signatory to the NPT,
must fulfill its commitments ensuing from the treaty. Namely, it
has no right to transfer nuclear weapons or control over them (be
it direct or indirect), nor shall it assist or encourage any
non-nuclear state in producing or obtaining nuclear weapons in any
way. Ukraine had proclaimed itself a non-nuclear state and Russia
could not become involved in the change of this status. As for the
choice of a site for the disassembly and disposal of nuclear
munitions, this issue had been resolved in an agreement on the
elimination of tactical weapons, signed by the presidents of the
two countries. Therefore, on this issue, the Ukrainian government
was revising its obligations as well.

At this point, it was necessary for me to focus on Russia’s
positive proposals. In particular, Russia expressed its readiness
to supply Ukraine with fuel elements for its nuclear power plants,
as compensation for eliminated nuclear weapons, in amounts
corresponding to the value of fissionable materials that would be
extracted from the nuclear munitions removed from Ukraine, minus
Russia’s expenditures for the munitions’ disposal. Russia was also
ready to immediately introduce procedures for ensuring the
ecological safety of the nuclear munitions on the Ukrainian
territory until all of them were removed.

The Ukrainian negotiators obviously felt uncomfortable about
making a decision. They asked us not to make public their
statement, yet they did not retreat from it. We were hard-pressed
to figure out why Ukraine proclaimed that it possessed nuclear
weapons: was this an attempt to receive the status of a nuclear
state, or a tactical move aimed at reaping the maximum benefits for
the liquidation of the weapons?

We divided the negotiating parties into several working groups.
One, set up to address issues within the jurisdiction of the
defense ministries, was to work out a schedule for removing the
nuclear weapons from Ukraine. Another, made of nuclear engineering
experts, was to establish the size of compensation for Ukraine. The
third group, which was comprised of defense industry experts, was
to draft an agreement for the developer’s product support of
strategic missile systems in service with the Strategic Forces. In
the Soviet Union, missiles were made both in Russia and Ukraine.
After the Soviet Union broke up, some of the Ukrainian-made
missiles remained in Russia, while Russian-made missiles remained
in Ukraine. Like nuclear munitions, the missiles could be
adequately maintained only by experts from the plants where they
had been produced.

The Ukrainian military delegation was led by Deputy Defense
Minister Ivan Bizhan. The Russian delegation presented in writing
its proposals concerning the schedule for removing nuclear
munitions from Ukraine. Our Ukrainian counterparts were not
enthusiastic with the proposals, but they had no alternative
proposals of their own. Instead, they made ambiguous statements,
from which it was not clear whether Kiev was going to fulfill its
commitment to eliminate their nuclear weapons.

I read the aforementioned May 7 statement of President Kravchuk
to George Bush.

I then approached Bizhan. “The letter speaks about the
elimination of all, I repeat, all the nuclear weapons located on
the territory of Ukraine,” I said.  “Can you confirm that
Ukraine is going to fulfill what its president wrote in this

But Bizhan again began to beat around the bush and even
reproached us for “talking so much about one and the same

 “So, I must know, is Ukraine prepared to eliminate all of
its nuclear weapons?”

 But the shorter the question the longer the answer.

“Let’s stop arguing,” I told Bizhan. “Let’s have a break, after
which you will detail your position on the elimination of nuclear
weapons in Ukraine in writing – the way you see it, so that we may
avoid false rumors.”

“This will take time.”

“How much?”

“Well, until morning.”

“OK, let’s start tomorrow morning’s session with a discussion on
Ukraine’s official statement.”

In the morning, however, there was no Ukrainian letter, and Yuri
Kostenko said that it would take Ukraine at least several days to
produce one.

Things were proceeding differently with the group of nuclear
engineering experts. The Ukrainian experts frankly stated that they
were afraid of miscalculating: they did not have enough data in
Kiev to calculate all of the possible variants for compensation in
order to select the best option. This was understandable. Russia’s
First Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy, Vitaly Konovalov, answered
all their questions, yet the Ukrainians requested more and more

In the third group, the missile experts had quickly drafted an
agreement on procedures for the developer’s product support of the
strategic missile systems in service with the Strategic Forces,
deployed both in Russia and Ukraine. We agreed to submit the draft
agreement to the leaders of both countries, together with a
proposal that the agreement be signed by the heads of government
without delay and without any linkage to the other issues.

We handed over to the Ukrainian delegation our draft agreement
on the servicing of nuclear munitions, which was very simple:
Russia would continue to bear responsibility for operational
maintenance of nuclear munitions, while Ukraine would provide
Russian specialists with the necessary conditions for meeting this
end, while ensuring the appropriate security for the facilities and
their operation. The Ukrainian delegation responded with their own
draft, in which Russia was expected to recognize Ukraine’s right to
own nuclear weapons. After discussions at a plenary meeting, the
Ukrainian delegation withdrew its draft but declined to accept
Russia’s proposal, saying they needed more time for

The escalation of Kiev’s nuclear ambitions grew increasingly
evident. Yuri Kostenko was so obviously carried away by the
domestic aspects of this crucial problem that its international
importance escaped his attention. He believed Ukraine was so strong
that it was ready to confront any country. “The Americans tried to
exert pressure on us, but we put them in their place,” he told

The Ukrainian delegation asked us to be restrained in our public
comments on the negotiations. However, on February 11, Russia’s
Nezavisimaya Gazeta carried a belligerent interview with
Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk, in which Russia’s
position was distorted beyond recognition. Moscow had no choice but
to respond.

On February 16, as had been agreed, Ukrainian nuclear
engineering experts arrived in Moscow. Under the arrangements made
at Irpen, we turned over to them all the documents on the nuclear
munitions and components of missile systems in service with the
Strategic Nuclear Forces stationed in Ukraine, and on the recycling
of nuclear components. The Ukrainian experts said they needed time
to study the documents in Kiev.

On February 24, the working group of military experts had a
meeting in Moscow. We expected the Ukrainian delegation to produce
a written statement concerning Ukraine’s position on the
elimination of strategic offensive armaments deployed on its
territory, as well as a timeframe for such a move. However, our
visitors declined to even discuss these issues. I immediately
telephoned Kostenko.

I told him, “The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine maintains that no
negotiations should be conducted on this issue. I can do nothing
about it.”

Furthermore, Kiev refused to sign the agreement on producer’s
warranty and servicing of missile systems, which we had already
reached at Irpen.

In the second round of negotiations in Moscow, we insisted on a
clear-cut agreement for ensuring the safety of the nuclear weapons.
This issue had to be resolved without delay and could not be
allowed to turn into a bargaining chip. In reply, we heard the same
old song: Russia must recognize Ukraine’s right to own the nuclear
munitions. The issue of nuclear safety was so important to us that,
seeing Ukraine’s reluctance to work toward a comprehensive
agreement, we proposed taking the following specific measures:

 – remove targeting data from all nuclear weapons delivery
vehicles on the territory of Ukraine before August 1, 1993;

 – remove the warheads and nuclear charges of
intercontinental ballistic missiles to secured bases in Russia
before August 1, 1994, for their subsequent disassembly;

 – reduce the alert status of the nuclear warheads on
longer-range cruise missiles carried by heavy bombers and remove
them to secure sites in Russia before August 1, 1993, for their
subsequent elimination.

There was no reply to our proposals. As for the removal of
nuclear munitions from the territory of Ukraine (all the munitions,
of course), the Ukrainian delegation no longer promised any more
written statements and made only vague oral proclamations. One of
my partners told me in private: “Of course, Kravchuk is the
president of Ukraine. But do you really think he can do everything
he wants and fulfill all the agreements he has signed? Times are
changing in Ukraine.”

As a result, we achieved only one specific result: we once again
agreed to sign a document on the servicing of missile systems. We
submitted this agreement for approval by the heads of


On March 10, Ukraine’s Supreme Soviet held the first public
hearings of the special working group led by Yuri Kostenko. He said
that “there is no more serious political group in Ukraine that
would absolutely support ratification of the START-1 Treaty or
accession to the NPT.” It was said at the hearings with regard to
the nuclear weapons problem that the Declaration of the State
Sovereignty of Ukraine was not a commitment but only a statement of
“future” intentions. Also, as a condition for ratifying START-1,
Ukraine demanded guarantees that it would receive all the rights of
an international legal entity and an actor in international
relations as a nuclear state.

In late August, the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine in a closed-door
session discussed proposals for a military doctrine. The Ukrainian
government, in a bid to win parliamentary approval for its own
draft, proposed keeping 46 of the most advanced SS-24 nuclear
missiles in service with the Ukrainian armed forces. The parliament
did not support the governmental proposal, but Ukraine’s resistance
to the elimination of all its nuclear weapons now came from the
highest state levels. Then came a statement from 162 Supreme Soviet
deputies (more than 30 percent of the MPs), which bluntly referred
to Ukraine as a nuclear state. The deputies who signed the
statement included my vis-?-vis in the negotiations.

We never received an invitation from Kiev to continue the
negotiations. We tried to raise the nuclear issue at meetings
between Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin and his
Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in June-July 1993. I was
accompanying Chernomyrdin and kept all the papers relating to the
nuclear issue at hand. At the appropriate moment, the prime
minister raised the nuclear weapons issue and then invited me to
report on outstanding problems. The Ukrainians listened to me but
evaded serious discussions.

On July 2, there came yet another surprise. The Ukrainian
Supreme Soviet passed a document entitled The Guidelines for
the Foreign Policy of Ukraine
. “In view of the dramatic
changes that have taken place after the breakup of the Soviet Union
and that have determined the present geopolitical position of
Ukraine, its plans to become a neutral and non-bloc state in the
future, which it proclaimed earlier, should be adapted to the new
realities and cannot be considered an obstacle to its full-scale
participation in pan-European security organizations,” the document
said. The security organizations it mentioned included the
Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, NATO and the
Western European Union. Ukraine proclaimed itself “the owner of its
nuclear weapons.”

On July 3, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry attached the nuclear
arsenals located in Ukraine to its 43rd Missile Army. The army
commander was ordered to ensure that the personnel of the nuclear
weapon technical operation units take the Ukrainian oath. In May
1992, the Ukrainian oath had been taken by the personnel of two
nuclear weapons technical operation units of the 46th Air Army,
which had over 600 strategic nuclear munitions. The move had given
Ukraine control over the munitions, as well as their use.
Furthermore, the flight personnel of the strategic bombers had
taken the Ukrainian oath, too. This factor, as the chief of the
Russian Armed Forces’ General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov noted,
provided Ukraine with a capability to use nuclear weapons.

In late July 1993, the Ukrainian defense minister visited the
United States to discuss the possibility of Washington recognizing
Ukraine’s move to a ‘transitional nuclear status’ from the status
of a ‘temporary nuclear power.’ The visit proved to be a failure.
On July 30, the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s Standing
Foreign Affairs Commission, Dmitro Pavlychko, said that Ukraine
would retain “partial nuclear status.” “Forty-six solid propellant
missiles [the most advanced SS-24 missiles] would remain in Ukraine
until the Nonproliferation Treaty is revised in 1995,” he
specified. Commenting on the above developments, General Kolesnikov
said that Ukraine was falling into a well-designed pattern of
“crawling toward nuclear status.”

On August 5, the Russian government released a statement saying
that the moves taken by Kiev “are leading to very serious
consequences for international stability and security… A dangerous
precedent is being created, which nuclear threshold countries may

In early August, at a meeting in Moscow between Chernomyrdin and
Kuchma, the Russian prime minister convinced his Ukrainian
counterpart to receive me in Kiev for continuing the negotiations.
In my trip to the Ukrainian capital, I was accompanied by Atomic
Energy Minister Victor Mikhailov. By the end of the second day of
the negotiations, we had resolved all the issues on our agenda,
except for the timeframe for removing nuclear weapons from Ukraine.
We reached agreement on the elimination of all the nuclear
munitions located in Ukraine, on their disposal in Russia, and on
procedures for the settlement of the operations. By way of
compensation, Ukraine would receive fuel assemblies for its nuclear
power plants. Russia’s expenditures for its supplies were to be
compensated for with sales from part of the uranium to be extracted
from the nuclear munitions removed from Ukraine. Ukraine’s right to
own the nuclear weapons was no longer mentioned.

The arrangements were formulated in three draft agreements:

– an agreement for the disposal of nuclear munitions;

– the main principles for disposing of nuclear munitions in
service with the Strategic Forces stationed in Ukraine;

– an agreement on procedures for the developer’s product support
of the operation of strategic missile systems in service with the
Strategic Forces stationed on the territories of Russia and

This was an important breakthrough considering the growing
international concern over Ukraine’s nuclear weapons and the
ratification of the START-1 Treaty. In early July, at a G-7 summit
in Tokyo, presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton agreed to
assign a tripartite format to the negotiations on START-1
ratification: Russia–U.S.–Ukraine. The first working meeting within
this framework was to be held in London immediately after the
bilateral negotiations in Kiev. However, we actually managed to
resolve all of the issues in Kiev, and I was part of the Russian
team that was leaving for London for the tripartite negotiations.
Our delegation was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov.
The U.S. was represented by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe

The draft agreements that I brought to London solved all of the
primary questions surrounding this grave international problem. It
would seem the U.S. negotiator should be happy or, at least,
satisfied to hear the news. However, Talbott, in reaction to the
positive news, only commented that he would like to discuss the
draft agreements with U.S. experts. The latter were more ingenuous
and admitted that they did not believe that we would be able to
reach agreement with the Ukrainians without U.S. mediation. When
the U.S. experts saw that the draft agreements were solid and did
not need any additions or specifications, they congratulated us and
said with a smile that there was nothing further to discuss. This
was the reason, perhaps, for Talbott’s disappointment.

On September 3, the Russian and Ukrainian presidents met at
Massandra, in the Crimea, where they quickly approved all three
draft agreements which prime ministers Chernomyrdin and Kuchma were
to sign, as well as the only remaining outstanding issue – the
timeframe for the removal of strategic nuclear weapons from the
territory of Ukraine. The parties agreed that the weapons would be
removed within 24 months after Ukraine ratified START-1. Naturally,
all the weapons were to be removed, as was written in the
draft agreements. This issue was of crucial importance, so the
parties decided to formalize the latter agreement in a special
confidential protocol. The moment of truth was quickly approaching.
Perhaps, that was why bitter disagreements broke out in Ukraine
over the nuclear weapons issue. Defense Minister Konstantin Morozov
at a plenary meeting launched an attack against his own president
by criticizing the agreements that had been reached. Ukrainian
President Kravchuk did not agree with him, and the Ukrainian party
that was preparing the final texts of the documents, including the
presidential team, made every effort to distort the essence of
Morozov’s arguments. The diplomatic showdown reached the intensity
of hand-to-hand combat. But the Ukrainian delegation failed to
change anything in any of the three draft agreements. The protocol
on the removal of all nuclear munitions was brief and well-worded,
too. Strictly speaking, there was nothing else to negotiate.

I will describe what happened next with a quotation from the
Russian Foreign Ministry’s September 21 official press release:
“The newspaper Kievskiye Vedomosti of September 9, 1993,
published a photocopy of The Protocol on the Removal of All
Nuclear Munitions of the Strategic Nuclear Forces, Stationed in
Ukraine, to Russia
. In this connection, the Foreign Ministry
of the Russian Federation is authorized to state the following:

“During the September 3 meeting at Massandra between the
presidents of Russia and Ukraine, an arrangement was reached that
all nuclear munitions of the Strategic Nuclear Forces stationed in
Ukraine would be taken to Russia not later than 24 months since the
day of ratification of the START-1 Treaty by Ukraine. The essence
of this arrangement is reflected, as evident from the photocopy, in
the name of the document, which contains the word ‘all.’ The
presidents decided that the document would be confidential and
would be signed by the heads of government. Moreover, the prime
ministers signed the prepared document in the following

“‘The President of the Russian Federation and the President of
Ukraine agreed that, after the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine ratifies
the START-1 Treaty, the government of Ukraine shall ensure the
removal of all nuclear munitions of the Strategic Nuclear Forces,
stationed in Ukraine, to the Russian Federation not later than 24
months since the day of ratification for their subsequent
disassembly and elimination.’

“However, Ukraine’s presidential adviser A. Buteiko took
advantage of the situation when the documents fell into his hands;
he made two alterations to the text, which completely changed the
content of the arrangement. The changes are clearly seen in the
photocopy published in Kiev: the word ‘all’ was crossed out and
after the words ‘the Strategic Nuclear Forces’ the words ‘falling
under the treaty’ were inserted. What these corrections meant was
that Ukraine (or rather a certain part of the governmental
apparatus), contrary to its international commitments, hoped to
reserve a part of the nuclear weapons.

“Despite a top-level protest from the Russian Party, the
representatives of Ukraine declined to restore the former text. In
view of such actions by the Ukrainian Party which are, to put it
mildly, unusual for diplomatic practices, the Russian Party
officially annulled this Protocol, about which the representatives
of Ukraine were immediately informed.

“So, legally, the Protocol on the Removal of All Nuclear
Munitions of the Strategic Nuclear Forces, Stationed in Ukraine, to
the Russian Federation
does not exist as a document, which, of
course, in no way affected the essence of the arrangements reached
between Russia and Ukraine at the level of the heads of state and

In mid-November, an open crisis broke out in the Ukrainian
Supreme Soviet over the START-1 ratification issue. President
Kravchuk’s proposal to ratify the package of the above three
documents received less than 170 votes of the required 221 in a
parliamentary vote. On November 18, however, the Supreme Soviet
passed a resolution entitled On the Ratification of the Treaty
Between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. on the Reduction and Limitation
of Strategic Offensive Arms, Signed in Moscow on July 31, 1991, and
Its Protocol, Signed in Lisbon on Behalf of Ukraine on May 23,
. But the government of Russia justly described the
resolution as “an outrage upon the important international
documents, the basic provisions of which were actually made null
and void by the Ukrainian legislators.”

 Indeed, the Supreme Soviet came out with a series of
provisos. Among others, it proclaimed Ukraine’s state ownership of
nuclear weapons; turned down Article 5 of the Lisbon Protocol,
which contained Ukraine’s commitment to join the NPT; declared
Ukraine’s plans not to eliminate all of their nuclear weapons that
remained on the Ukrainian territory, but only 36 percent of the
launch vehicles and 42 percent of the nuclear munitions, leaving
the rest of the nuclear-missile arsenal to Ukraine.

 International law cannot recognize the ratification of a
treaty if its provisos are incompatible with its subject and terms.
Ukraine formulated a new document which was convenient for certain
political forces in Kiev and which had nothing in common with the
START-1 Treaty. In view of this fact, the government of Russia
declared that the decision of the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine with
regard to START-1 could not be recognized. A similar statement was
released by Washington.

President Kravchuk described Ukraine’s failed accession to the
NPT as “a major political mistake” of the Supreme Soviet which
“delivered a colossal blow to Ukraine’s authority and its
international prestige.” As the head of state admitted later, “we
were on the brink of an economic blockade and international

Could Ukraine really have become a nuclear power? Theoretically,
yes. The country has the required research and technological
potentials to support this technology. But here is what Minister
Victor Mikhailov, an outstanding authority in this field, wrote in
1994: “It would take many decades for Ukraine to become a nuclear
power – and funds which it does not have… One can master anything.
But what would it cost!… The entire country worked to build our
[Soviet – Y.D.] nuclear complex. Russia’s nuclear complex is now
estimated at about five billion dollars. We need corresponding
research facilities, specialists with required professional skills,
as well as the infrastructure.”

Shortly after the Supreme Soviet’s decision, Leonid Kravchuk
made a remarkable statement in a televised interview: “I asked my
opponents the question, ‘Who are our weapons aimed at?’ If we are
to retarget our missiles, we must choose a target to aim the
missiles. Let us suppose that we choose a target. What will the
reaction be in a situation where no one aims their missiles at us
while we choose an ‘enemy’ to target our missiles? What will be the
international reaction and attitude toward Ukraine?”


Despite the unfavorable developments in Kiev, Russia continued
to press Ukraine to make decisions that would meet the interests of
the international community. On January 14, 1994, tripartite
agreements with the presidents of Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine were
signed in Moscow. A supplementary document stated Ukraine’s key
commitments to completely fulfill its obligations with regard to
all the nuclear weapons remaining on the Ukrainian territory, and
terms for the supply of fuel assemblies for Ukrainian nuclear power
plants as compensation. Security guarantees were granted to Ukraine
by Russia and the U.S. once the START-1 Treaty entered into force
and as soon as Ukraine became a non-nuclear signatory to the NPT.
The United States offered to give Russia U.S. $60 million as
prepayment to cover Russia’s expenditures for the disassembly of
strategic munitions and the manufacture of fuel assemblies. The
money was to be deducted from payments due to Russia under a
Russian-U.S. contract on highly enriched uranium.

 The Ukrainian Supreme Soviet discussed the tripartite
agreements on February 4, 1994. In the resolution, it withdrew its
reservations concerning Article 5 of the Lisbon Protocol, thus
opening up the possibility of Ukraine joining the NPT. The
government was instructed to exchange instruments of START
ratification and increase its efforts to conclude interstate
agreements aimed at fulfilling the Supreme Soviet’s November 18,
1993 resolution. On May 10, 1994, the prime ministers of Russia and
Ukraine signed an agreement for the implementation of the
tripartite arrangements reached by the presidents of Russia, the
U.S. and Ukraine.

After a series of elections in Ukraine, the process of the START
ratification and accession to the NPT had to be completed by the
new Ukrainian president, Leonid Kuchma. On November 16, 1994, the
Supreme Soviet passed a law on Ukraine’s accession to the NPT.
However, the law once again contained several reservations, one of
which stated: “Ukraine is the owner of the nuclear weapons which it
has inherited from the ex-U.S.S.R.” The restoration of the
long-withdrawn claim again brought back to the agenda the issue of
Ukraine’s status as an NPT signatory: non-nuclear, as it was bound
by its international commitments, or as a new nuclear state. The
position of Ukraine’s top legislative body was quite clear,
however: being the owner of nuclear weapons meant being a nuclear

Kiev trumpeted its victory, emphasizing the effort the country’s
leadership had made in order to overcome the resistance of deputies
who opposed Ukraine’s accession to the NPT. Kuchma made a
passionate speech, saying that it would take at least U.S. $160-200
billion in investment within ten years to launch the closed-cycle
production of nuclear munitions. “Who amongst the advocates of
nuclear games can stand up and tell us to whom we should sell or
pawn all of Ukraine’s property, just to obtain a nuclear arsenal
for ourselves and make ‘happy’?” he asked.

Yet, the fact that only a few deputies voted against the law on
accession to the NPT indicated that the reservations it contained
were so far-reaching that they satisfied even the advocates of a
nuclear status for Ukraine. Indeed, what more could the champions
of “nuclear games” demand when the law declared that Ukraine was
joining the NPT as an owner of nuclear weapons? Recognition by the
international community of Ukraine’s accession to the treaty on
such terms would mean recognition of its nuclear status. That would
be their victory.

On the following day, November 17, Russia’s Foreign Ministry
came out with the following statement: “Moscow appreciates the
Ukrainian leadership’s efforts to resolve the issue of Ukraine’s
accession to the Nonproliferation Treaty of July 1, 1968. In this
connection, we were satisfied to hear the news that the Supreme
Soviet of Ukraine yesterday passed a law on accession to this

“At the same time, we cannot ignore the fact that the adopted
law stipulated some conditions. The content of these terms makes
unclear the status – nuclear or non-nuclear – in which Ukraine is
planning to join the NPT… These questions must be answered because
the NPT depositaries are now completing the drafting of a document
on security guarantees for Ukraine, which are planned to be given
to it as a state not possessing nuclear weapons. The importance of
clarifying these issues is quite understandable.”

 Kiev’s reaction to the questions put by Moscow was keenly
sensitive. However, answers to these questions were demanded not
only by Russia but the entire international community. The tensions
came to a head at the CSCE summit in Budapest, where Ukraine was to
provide the instruments of accession to the NPT, and Russia, the
U.S., Britain and Ukraine were to sign a memorandum on security
guarantees for Kiev. Ukraine was in a dilemma whether to officially
specify its status of a state not possessing nuclear weapons, thus
receiving security guarantees, or decline and send the entire range
of issues back to the negotiating table.

On the eve of December 5, the day the ceremony was to be held,
the parties were engaged in intensive negotiations which continued
throughout the night. By the morning, Ukraine had prepared a
Foreign Ministry note on its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear
state (not possessing nuclear weapons). The Izvestia newspaper
wrote on the following day: “When President Leonid Kuchma of
Ukraine handed the document on his country’s accession to the
Nonproliferation Treaty to Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and John
Major, the hall where the CSCE Budapest summit was held gave a sigh
of relief.”

Between March 1994 and June 1996, about 2,000 nuclear munitions
of strategic weapon systems were removed from Ukraine to Russia for
disassembly. In all, considering tactical weapons, about 5,000
nuclear munitions were moved to Russia in almost 100 trains. The
START-1 Treaty and the Lisbon Protocol were completely fulfilled.
The epic about Ukraine’s renunciation of nuclear status can take a
worthy place in the history of diplomacy and serve as an
instructive lesson.