In 1994, Ukraine famously gave up their nuclear arsenal in exchange for the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. But is it known if Russia or the US had any backup plans in case Ukraine stood their ground and announced they were going to become a nuclear nation?

  • 3
    In general we don't like hypotheticals. However, in this case I think we do have enough information about other states with nuclear weapons to say what was done in their cases.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 18, 2022 at 22:29

2 Answers 2


Its a pretty reasonable assumption that they'd have done what they do for other such nations (eg: France, China, India), and pressure them to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. France and China signed on in 1992, and India still refuses to sign.

Ukraine of course, along with the other former soviet "republics" that happened to house atomic weapons, signed all those weapons over to Russia, and then signed on as a non-nuclear power.

As a nuclear power, a nation's main responsibilities are to not provide any tech or material help to non-nuclear powers that might help them develop nuclear weapons (or any at all to non-signatories), and to work towards disarmament in themselves and others. However you have to be allowed to sign on as a nuclear power. Pakistan has said they'd be willing to join that way, but no such offer has come.

For nations that own atomic weapons and join? Well, arguably not a lot of progress has really been made on disarmament. The US and Russia have gotten rid of a lot of their thousands of obsolete weapons, but they both still have plenty more. No signed-on power has ever dropped down from Nuclear to non-Nuclear status. Ukraine and the other former Republics were really (supposed to be) the success story there.

For nations that own atomic weapons and have not signed on, there you have to look at countries like India, Pakistan, and North Korea. All nuclear exports are supposed to be banned to such countries, which means they'd have a hard time getting any fuel for their nuclear power plants that they can't dig up on their own territory. It looks like Ukraine currently have 4 of those operating, with 15 reactors.

So there were definite non-military benefits to Ukraine for disarming. At the time Russia was a friendly democratic nation, so an attack from that quarter would have seemed much less likely than under the despotic Putin-run Russia that was still, at that time,a few years in their future. In exchange they got right on the NPT treaty with its access to the international nuclear trade with relatively little fuss.

  • of course a big potential problem with the NPT is that while 191 countries have signed on, only 43 of those have ratified it. That makes it non-binding for a lot of those countries, at least technically. And think Iran for example, which is a signatory but still actively developing nuclear weapons and suspected on being involved in working together with North Korea in doing so despite having ratified the treaty.
    – jwenting
    Mar 21, 2022 at 7:55
  • Just found out that Ukraine actually probably can dig up enough Uranium locally to service their needs, but hasn't been doing so. Still, there's benefits to being fully tapped into the world market, when you rely on that source as much as they do.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 21, 2022 at 13:10
  • Just because you have the stuff in the ground doesn't mean you can turn it into weapons. Enrichment facilities to create enough highly enriched Uranium even for a very crude weapon are rather large and use massive amounts of power. They're not exactly easy to build and operate, let alone hide. And let's not get started about what's needed to get enough Plutonium for a more advanced weapon.
    – jwenting
    Mar 22, 2022 at 9:13
  • @jwenting - After further reading, it looks like they dig up about 1/3 of their domestic needs right now (or at least prior to the latest hostilities). Tripling production on anything usually isn't trivial.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 22, 2022 at 13:05
  • yeah, and that third will have been turned into fuel rods for the country's nuclear power plants. Low enriched Uranium oxide pallets, not high enriched metallic Uranium ingots.
    – jwenting
    Mar 22, 2022 at 16:09

These things tend to be kept secret, but some deductions are possible.

  • Shortly after the breakup of the USSR, Russia would have made a targeting plan for nuclear strikes on Ukraine in case the Ukrainian government decided to be really stupid and attack them.
  • At much the same time, the USA would have made their plans for nuclear attacks on the Ukraine-as-part-of-the-USSR into a separate plan for hitting just Ukraine, for the same reasons as Russia. They'd likely have adjusted the plans to reduce the amount of fallout that would reach other post-Soviet states.
  • After that, Russia and America would have waited for Ukraine to accept that they didn't have the skills and industries available for maintaining nuclear warheads, and that giving them up was the sensible course of action. The Soviet nuclear warhead infrastructure was always in Russia, not shared out with the subject states of the USSR.
  • Ukraine did have the capability to build and maintain ICBMs, because they had one of the USSR's design bureaus for those, and associated factories. I don't know if they had the capability to build and maintain the required inertial guidance systems, though.
  • This is just a pure speculation, unsupported by any references or evidence. To the contrary, all the evidence I know points in the direction of "doing nothing." Specifically, Russia was in the midst of a major socio-political crisis, compounded by the 1st war in Chechnya (in which RF was doing very poorly). US was preoccupied with attempts to manage an on-going war in Balkans. Additionally, for Clinton's administration: Failed attempt on a healthcare reform, loss of Democratic Party control of House and Senate, etc. Oct 1, 2022 at 16:16

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