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Q&A: Ukraine's nuclear weapons

Ukraine's nukes

I believe Ukraine "inherited" a sizable portion of the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal upon the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., enough that some say it became the world's third-largest nuclear power almost overnight. How does that factor in with the recent unrest in Ukraine? I haven't heard much mention of it.

When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the number of nuclear weapons located in the former Soviet territory of Ukraine was the third-largest stockpile in the world.

Russia began negotiations with Ukraine to remove the weapons, but those talks broke down in 1993 because the Ukrainians had certain objectives — primarily compensation and security — they wanted assurances on before they surrendered their leverage.

The United States offered to help broker an agreement, a move welcomed by both Russia and Ukraine. In January 1994, an agreement was signed by the presidents of the three counties: Leonid Kravchuk of Ukraine, Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Bill Clinton of the United States.

Here's what the agreement said, according to a 2011 report by Steve Pifer, director of the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative and a senior fellow with the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence and the Center on the United States and Europe in the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution:

"Those documents provided that Ukraine would transfer all strategic warheads on its territory to Russia for elimination and, in return, would receive security assurances, compensation for the commercial value of the HEU (highly enriched uranium), and ... assistance to help with the disposal of ICBMs, ICBM silos, bombers and other infrastructure on Ukrainian territory. Perhaps as importantly but less tangibly, the Trilateral Statement removed what would have been a major impediment to Ukraine's development of normal relations with the United States and the West."

NATO and Ukraine

I thought the Ukraine had joined NATO, but I heard this week it had not. Who is in NATO?

NATO is a political and military alliance with 28 nations as members. They are, in alphabetical order:

Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.

NATO has more then 9 million active and reserve military personnel. However, since Ukraine is not a NATO member, the alliance is under no obligation to offer assistance in its current situation with Russia.

Compiled from Times and wire reports. To submit a question, email

Q&A: Ukraine's nuclear weapons 03/07/14 [Last modified: Friday, March 7, 2014 4:12pm]
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