Radical MPs bid to make Ukraine nuclear again
The Radical Party faction of the Ukrainian parliament is seeking to withdraw Ukraine’s membership of the 1968 international treaty which bans the development of nuclear weapons and keeps nuclear technology in check.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) recognizes only five nations as legitimate possessors of nuclear weapons: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. A handful of UN members are not signatories to the treaty, including Pakistan and India, which were never part of the NPT but have nuclear weapons of their own, and North Korea, which withdrew in 2003 to develop a nuclear arsenal.
Now Kiev may follow Pyongyang’s example if the Radical Party faction in parliament has its way. The party’s leader, Oleg Lyashko, has long called for the government to restore the country’s nuclear capability, which Ukraine briefly possessed in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The number of nuclear warheads deployed on Ukrainian territory by the USSR was only behind those possessed by Russia and the US. But by 1996, all of them had been handed over to Russia, which was busy dismantling a large portion of the costly Soviet nuclear stockpile.
In 1994, Ukraine was given security assurances by Russia, the US and the UK in the so-called Budapest Memorandum in exchange for its accession to the NTP. Similar documents were signed with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which were in a comparable position. China and France gave milder commitments to Ukraine in separate statements.
The memorandum was never ratified by any party, but after the then-Ukrainian region of Crimea opposed the 2014 armed coup in Kiev and voted in a referendum to break away and rejoin Russia, many politicians in Ukraine – Lyashko among them – and their backers elsewhere accused Moscow of breaching its commitments under the document.
“Russia de facto denounced the Budapest Memorandum by launching an armed aggression against Ukraine. So Ukraine de jure reinstated its status as a nuclear power. So I suggest we start the process of rebuilding nuclear weapons,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Monday.
Lyashko is a populist politician with a strongly nationalist voter base, and is well known for his publicity stunts. His bill to restore Ukraine’s nuclear status was registered in parliament Tuesday. A date for a committee discussion on the issue is yet to be set.
Ukraine’s ability to actually produce a nuclear weapon remains in question. While numerous research and production facilities based in what now is Ukraine were involved in building the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the country’s current economic troubles and technological backslide would make constructing even a simple nuclear device a major challenge – even if the Ukrainian government does undertake such a project.
Historically, only Pakistan and India have openly acquired nuclear capabilities without being alienated from the international community. South Africa chose to abandon its efforts rather than defy the nuclear club. North Korea remains under international sanctions over its continued pursuit of atomic weapons.
Iran was seriously pressured over a simple suspicion that it was developing nuclear weapons, while Syria was subjected to a surprise Israeli attack in 2007, after the Jewish state concluded that Damascus had an undeclared nuclear reactor.