In 1991 Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal. She gave it up in exchange for Russia respecting her borders.

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“The world owes Ukraine its security.” The phrase, forceful, without many concessions to interpretation, released by the ukrainian foreign ministerDmytro Kuleba, before the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, hours before Russian troops start their military offensive in the Donbas region, and although it has a lot of war rhetoric cooked up for the headlines, the truth is that there is something true about it. 28 years ago, when Putin was making a career in the offices of Saint Petersburg, Ukraine, he indeed took a step that allowed half the planet to breathe a sigh of relief.

On December 5, 1994, the then Ukrainian Prime Minister, leonid kuchmasigned the Memorandum on Security Guarantees, better known as ‘Budapest’ after the city in which it was closed. The agreement, in which the United States, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation were also involved, can be summed up in two main ideas: the different parties undertook to respect the borders and limits of Ukraine, recognizing its sovereignty over the territory; and the former Soviet satellite assumed the commitment to get rid of its nuke.

Because yes, at the beginning of the 90s, as a legacy of the USSR, Ukraine, a country not very different from Spain in terms of area and population, had a nuclear arsenal that made it a world-class problem. As Carlos A. Montaner recalls on CNNthe republic had 1,9000 warheads, strategic silos and planes that would have allowed it to destroy the great American cities with bombs considerably more powerful than Hiroshima’s.

With such an arsenal and capacity for destruction, Ukraine stood out on the complex “post-USSR” chessboard as the third nation in the world with greater volume of atomic weaponry.

Ahead even of Israel, France or the United Kingdom, even.

The heritage of the USSR

The Budapest Memorandum closed in a complex and delicate scenario, just three years after the collapse of the USSR and after seven of the rubric of the Treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forceswhich had entered into force in 1988. As a legacy, the Cold War left the world with three states in a particularly difficult situation: Belarus, Kazakhstan and, of course, Ukraine, former satellites that kept nuclear weapons on their territories. After the signing in the Hungarian capital, the republic he sent his weapons to Russia for him to dismantle it.

What did Kiev get in return? A commitmentin writing, with the stamp of the top leaders, who cleared his future. At least in appearance. The signatories, including Russia itself, advanced their respect for “the independence, sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine” and ruled out any threat to “the territorial integrity or political independence” of the country. Moreover, in the event that the republic became “the victim of an act of aggression”, guaranteed that they would look for an “immediate” answer the UN Security Council to “assist” her.


US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia following the Budapest Memorandum ministerial meeting on the Ukraine crisis in Paris on March 5, 2014. Image: US Department of State

Today, with the Russian troops besieging Kievthe country shaken by the deflagrations, more than a hundred dead and whole families sheltered undergroundleaving prints that remember the blitz from London or the bombing of Madrid during the Civil War, there are voices that are already raised: What would have happened if Ukraine had not given up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s?

The question is not new. Almost a decade ago, in 2014, Russia violated the memorandum by seize the Crimea region from Ukraine and the city of Sevastopol, the most populated port city on the peninsula. That episode was accompanied by the feeling, among many Ukrainians, that the 1994 decision had been a mistake. After the invasion of Russian troops, in fact, the idea of ​​nuclear rearmament reached historic support among Ukrainian society it touched almost 50%.

Today the treaty is also on the table again. Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky claimed days ago call a summit between the signatories of the pact. this very week, [durante un encuentro con el Secretario de Estado](Antony J. Blinken) American Antony Blinken, Kuleba acknowledged that the document is not really a collective defense treaty, but he did recall that it was signed “under the premise that the countries that provided security guarantees to Ukraine will not use force against us”. And he insisted: “If that happens, they will do everything to stop it.”

The battle of Chernobyl: Russia and Ukraine are fighting to control the exclusion zone

What Ukraine does hold in the 21st century is a robust “core muscle”. World Nuclear Association has a dozen and a half reactors, from which the country obtains about half of its electricity, and is reportedly building two more. Most of its services and fuel come from Russia, although the state has tried to reduce dependence on its neighbor.

As a sad vestige of that nuclear force, barely three hours by road from Kiev, stands the old Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the protagonist of an accident in April 1986 that — like today, although for quite different reasons — made us hold our breath to half the planet and whose exclusion zone has now become, 36 years later, a battlefield.

Images | Emilio Morenatti/AP and US Department of State (Flickr)

“The world owes Ukraine its security.” The phrase, forceful, without many concessions to interpretation, released by the ukrainian foreign ministerDmytro…

“The world owes Ukraine its security.” The phrase, forceful, without many concessions to interpretation, released by the ukrainian foreign ministerDmytro…

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