“It’s a great tragedy,” said Rose Gottemoeller, who negotiated the New START arms control treaty with Russia and now works at Stanford University. “Putin is so steeped in his own grievances that he doesn’t remember how we worked so closely – Americans, Ukrainians and Russians – to ensure that the disintegration of the Soviet nuclear arsenal did not lead to the creation of three new nuclear-weapon states. ”
In fact, Mr Putin is now using the most important agreement of the time, the Budapest Memorandum, to make his case. The memorandum – signed by Ukraine, the United States, Britain and Russia – ratified the central agreement: Ukraine would surrender the entire nuclear arsenal left behind on its territory, and in return, the other three nations would all guarantee Ukraine’s security. and guarantee the integrity of its borders. (Although Ukraine had physically controlled the weapons, the launching authority for them had remained in the hands of the Russians.)
But what that security guarantee was, the memorandum never stated, and there was no promise of military assistance in the event of an attack. But Mr Putin blatantly violated that accord when he annexed Crimea in 2014 and did so again on Monday when he recognized the two separatist republics, essentially claiming they were no longer part of Ukraine.
He said this week he was outraged that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke publicly about reconsidering the memorandum. The complaint from Mr. Zelensky, voiced at the Munich Security Conference last weekend, is that the “guarantee” is no guarantee at all against a nation with Russian coercive powers.
Mr Putin argued that if Ukraine were to question the memorandum, it must want its own nuclear arsenal.
“We believe the Ukrainian words are directed against us,” Putin said at a press conference with the president of Azerbaijan on Tuesday. “And we heard them. They have broad Soviet-era nuclear competence, a developed nuclear industry, they have schools, everything they need to act quickly.”
Perhaps realizing that he may be exaggerating about the threat, Mr Putin said, “They don’t have one thing: a uranium enrichment program. But that’s a technical question. It is not an unsolvable problem for Ukraine; it is easy to solve.”