The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances
At the time of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world, including an estimated 1,900 strategic warheads, 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and 44 strategic bombers. By 1996, Ukraine had returned all of its nuclear warheads to Russia in exchange for economic aid and security assurances, and in December 1994, Ukraine became a non-nuclear weapon state-party to the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The last strategic nuclear delivery vehicle in Ukraine was eliminated in 2001 under the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). It took years of political maneuvering and diplomatic work, starting with the Lisbon Protocol in 1992, to remove the weapons and nuclear infrastructure from Ukraine.
Why did Ukraine do this? Because they were given security assurances by Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States in a document called the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances:
To solidify security commitments to Ukraine, the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom signed the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances on December 5, 1994. A political agreement in accordance with the principles of the Helsinki Accords, the memorandum included security assurances against the threat or use of force against Ukraine’s territory or political independence. The countries promised to respect the sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine. Parallel memorandums were signed for Belarus and Kazakhstan as well. In response, Ukraine officially acceded to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state on December 5, 1994. That move met the final condition for ratification of START, and on the same day, the five START states-parties exchanged instruments of ratification, bringing the treaty into force.
And just for grins, Russia and the United States renewed their vows 2009. But when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it said hahaha, king’s x, our promise is invalid because Ukraine threatened to impeach our boy, the kleptocrat Yanukovych, and he fled to Russia.
Yanukovych now manages a chain of borscht restaurants in suburban Moscow for a Russian oligarch. Okay, I made that part up.
The U.K. and the U.S. complained about this breach of the agreement in 2014, but did nothing beyond that, as far as I can tell.
So, in for a penny, in for a pound, Russia invades Ukraine in 2022. There was nothing in the recent history of the region that indicated to Vlad the Dissembler that the West would get so, you know, upset.
The pretext for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a claimed genocide being committed by Ukraine against Russian speakers in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine. Russia further claimed a duty under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to resist the genocide.
Ukraine said baloney, and filed a suit in the International Court of Justice. The Court issued a sort of preliminary injunction today, March 16th, telling Russia to stop its invasion.
Russia has refused to appear in the case, although the Russian ambassador to the Netherlands sent a letter to the Court, which the Court ignored, as it should have. You have to show up if you are going to play.
There is, in fact, a duty imposed on the signatories to the Convention to stop a genocide, but as the Court observed, it is a multilateral obligation; a single state cannot appoint itself to decide that a genocide is occurring. Moreover, no evidence of genocide was offered — Russia wasn’t there, remember — and the Court said it didn’t have information from news sources that would permit such a conclusion, either.
There is a genocide occurring, of course. It’s the effort of Russia to erase Ukraine as a sovereign state.
The United Kingdom and the United States have an affirmative duty to protect Ukraine under the Budapest Memorandum, but you don’t hear much about that. Ukraine gave up a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons to get those security assurances.
The NATO signatories to the Genocide Convention also have a collective duty to stop the genocide occurring in Ukraine. Ukraine doesn’t have to be a member of NATO for that treaty obligation to exist.
But again, you don’t hear much about that.
Crimea was 1938; this is 1939.
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