In 1994, the 3 nuclear powers, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, signed an agreement with Ukraine. The agreement obliged them to defend Ukraine’s borders. 20 years later, Ukraine was attacked by Russia, fighting is still going on in the country. Who took over Ukraine’s nuclear weapons? Yes, Russia. At this time, Ukraine had the world’s 3 largest arsenal of nuclear weapons.
Budapest Memorandum and Nuclear Weapons
There were actually three separate agreements concerning Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The agreement was negotiated in Budapest and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) was the architect behind the agreements. These agreements guaranteed the borders of each of these three countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine). In return, these countries were to give up their nuclear weapons. The United States, Britain and Russia acted as guarantors of the borders.
In retrospect, the guarantee has proved to be of very little value. In the spring of 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, which was Ukrainian territory, and a little later, Russia started a war in the Donbas area in eastern Ukraine.
What happened in Ukraine?
We are going back to November 2013. President Viktor Yanukovych was close to signing a cooperation agreement with Russia that would link Ukraine even more closely to Russia. He was elected president in 2010 partly because he went to the polls to work more closely with Western Europe. The people not only wanted to see Russia, but to be part of the rest of Europe. Yanukovych had negotiated an agreement with the EU that Russia did not like. Russia put pressure on Yanukovych and this led to him not wanting to sign the cooperation agreement. Then the people protested. We got what is later referred to as the Maidan Revolution.
What exactly was the Maidan revolution? Yes, as I said, it started as a protest against Yanukovych and his kneeling before Russia’s pressure. The Maidan actually meant that the people wanted to look both to Russia, but also west to Europe. The Maidan revolution eventually also became a protest against corruption and the oligarchs’ position of power.
Throughout the winter of 2013-14, thousands gathered at Maidan Square in Kyiv where they demanded change. Yanukovych eventually deployed militia groups and the military against the population. Many were killed. Finally, Yanukovych fled to Russia. Yanukovych was ousted by parliament on February 22, 2014. He is wanted by Interpol for mass murder and for running away with almost the entire treasury.
The flame was barely extinguished after the Olympics in Sochi before some green unidentified soldiers appeared on the Crimean peninsula. The soldiers quickly took control of the administration on the peninsula and it soon became clear to the whole world that the soldiers were Russian.
A so-called referendum was called. The people were to decide whether Crimea belonged to Russia or Ukraine. They had to vote on two alternatives. Both would in practice give the same result. The Crimean Tatars who are the indigenous people of the area would belong to Ukraine. The Crimean Tatars were exiled during World War II and it was not until the 1980s that some were allowed to return home. Many Crimean Tatars still lived in Russia. These were not allowed to take part in the fictitious referendum. The result was given in advance. Crimea was annexed.
A clear breach of the 1994 agreement. Almost a whole world is protesting. But the guarantee for the borders was not worth much.
Almost in parallel with the annexation of the Donbas, suddenly some similar green men also came to areas in eastern Ukraine. Primarily in the Donbas area in the oblasts (counties) of Donetsk and Lugansk. But also in Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv we saw them. In the same way as in the crime scene, they tried to take control of local authorities. But this time they met stronger opposition from the Ukrainian army and the population in the area. In Kharkiv, the people literally lifted them out. In the Donbas, they received massive support from Russian forces and Russia has sent large quantities of weapons to the area.
To this day, more than five years later, more fighting is taking place between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces. More than 13,000 have lost their lives. The question is what Russia would do if Ukraine still had nuclear weapons.
Suppression of Ukrainian culture and language
Some people believe that everyone who speaks Russian in Ukraine is Russian. It is not true. The Ukrainian language has been partially banned over time. Yes, the further east in Ukraine we come, the more Russian the population speaks. Not because they are Russians but because the culture and language are influenced and have been banned. The further west in Ukraine, the more difficult it has been for the authorities throughout history to enforce a ban. In addition, areas in western Ukraine have also belonged to other countries throughout history, whether it has been Austria-Hungary or Poland.
The Ukrainian language has been under the same pressure as our Old Norse language was during our union with Denmark. We lost our language and had to make a new one. The difference between Ukraine and Norway is that the Ukrainian language is not dead, it has survived.
What happens next?
Ukraine is taking small but important steps towards becoming a freer country. Democracy is alive and well. Corruption is declining and things are being done to limit the influence of the oligarchs. Slowly but surely things are going in the right direction.
Of course, I am glad that the crisis in Ukraine has not developed into a major conflict. But the 1994 guarantee was hardly worth the paper it was written on. What if Ukraine did not actually give away its nuclear weapons?