In 1994, Ukraine dismantled its nuclear arsenal and ICBMs.

According to present-day Ukraine, was it a mistake?

What do Ukrainian political leaders and scholars/intellectuals say about this?

What do Ukraine's general population say about this?


4 Answers 4


According to some political leaders and a part of general population in Ukraine, giving up nuclear weapons in the past was a mistake. There have been recent calls to reacquire nuclear weapons by Ukraine.


“We gave away the capability for nothing,” said Andriy Zahorodniuk, a former defense minister of Ukraine. Referring to the security assurances Ukraine won in exchange for its nuclear arms, he added: “Now, every time somebody offers us to sign a strip of paper, the response is, ‘Thank you very much. We already had one of those some time ago.’”

Western analysts say the current Ukrainian mood tends to romanticize the atomic past. “The gist is, ‘We had the weapons, gave them up and now look what’s happening,’” said Mariana Budjeryn, a Ukraine specialist at Harvard University. “On a policy level, I see no movement toward any kind of reconsideration. But on a popular level, that’s the narrative.”
In Ukraine, the Crimean invasion and the lengthy war led to a series of calls for atomic rearmament, according to Dr. Budjeryn, author of “Inheriting the Bomb,” a forthcoming book from Johns Hopkins University Press.

In March 2014, Volodymyr Ohryzko, a former foreign minister, argued that Ukraine now had the moral and legal right to reestablish its nuclear status. In July, an ultranationalist parliamentary bloc introduced a bill for arsenal reacquisition. Later that year, a poll showed that public approval stood at nearly 50 percent for nuclear rearmament.

Last year, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, said Kyiv might look to nuclear arms if it cannot become a member of NATO. “How else can we guarantee our defense?” Mr. Melnyk asked.

Ukraine Gave Up a Giant Nuclear Arsenal 30 Years Ago. Today There Are Regrets. By William J. Broad. New York Times, February 5, 2022: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/05/science/ukraine-nuclear-weapons.html

Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian parliament told USA Today that Ukraine may have to arm themselves with their own nuclear weapons if the United States and other world leaders do not hold up their end of the agreement. He said "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement. Now, there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake."[19] He also said that, "In the future, no matter how the situation is resolved in Crimea, we need a much stronger Ukraine. If you have nuclear weapons, people don't invade you."[20] On December 13, 2014 Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stated that he did not want Ukraine to become a nuclear power again.[21]
On April 15, 2021, Andriy Yaroslavovych Melnyk, Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, told Deutschlandfunk radio that if Ukraine was not allowed to become a NATO member, his country might have to reconsider its status as a non-nuclear weapon state to guarantee its defense.[25][26]

In February 2022 (in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine), Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky renewed such sentiments, suggesting that Ukraine would potentially view the Budapest Memorandum as invalid should its security guarantees not be met.[27]

As of 2022 only three Ukrainian parties support bringing back nuclear weapons: Svoboda,[28] Radical Party of Oleh Liashko,[29] and The National Corps.[30]

Ukraine and weapons of mass destruction: Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ukraine_and_weapons_of_mass_destruction


At least according to the first president of Ukraine, it was not a mistake. In this interview he said that Ukraine with nuclear weapons would be like a monkey with a grenade. Also according to another interview by Kravchuk, it was the West, who wanted to make Ukraine free of nuclear weapons.

There is also a video of that interview by Kravchuk, but without any translation, so not sure if it can be useful as a reference.

However for those who interested here the original video of the interview to ukrainian TV.


Ukraine could not launch these weapons with the push of the button; Russia had all launch codes. Still, at least raw materials were probably reusable, no need to spin lots of centrifuges to purify uranium. These weapons could have been rebuilt instead. The country does not need to be rich to possess them. Pakistan does.

I think Ukraine has done the right thing by dismissing the nuclear weapons and making the world more secure. This earned the notable support for them from the world and probably contributed that it is very difficult to persuade most of the world that Russia is fighting a defensive war against Nazi. Nazi just do not destroy they nuclear weapons. Would be highly unusual for them.

Not many countries get that much support of all kinds from the world, not many refugees are so welcome in the world, not often folks raise millions of donations in days to buy a Bayraktar for another country. Least not the last, some Russians tell the truth and then go into jail for seven years, also respect. I would not trade that for a bunch of nuclear rockets that I probably could not use anyway because the enemy may strike back with the similar ones.

  • 3
    launch codes by themselves is probably over-simplified, but yes, maintaining a nuclear deterrent as a not very rich country wouldn't be easy. Pakistan does it, but that's in the context of a military that sucks up massive amounts of GDP on the back of poor social development. When the accords were signed in 1994, with the Russian leadership at hand, it was the right thing to do. Signing them in 2007, with Putin in charge and being on record as wanting the Soviet Empire back and praising Stalin, this may have worked out differently. Jul 12, 2022 at 21:26
  • 3
    A nitpick in this context, but centrifuges are used to enrich uranium, not plutonium. The latter is obtained from nuclear reactors (which they have plenty). So, Ukraine does have access to raw materials (as well as the ICBM tech, and generally the skills) without necessarily reusing the Soviet warheads, and could have done something if it really wanted to. But it's still a heavy toll, both economically and politically.
    – Zeus
    Jul 13, 2022 at 1:26
  • @Zeus thanks, corrected. From Manhatan project pages, there are both "uranium" and "plutonium" paths to build a warhead, but plutonium is produced from uranium.
    – Stančikas
    Jul 14, 2022 at 6:43

Ukraine never actually have nuclear arsenal. It was like US nukes on German military bases. Geographically, it are in Germany, but it is the US nukes. The same way Soviet, and then Russian nukes were on the Ukrainian territory. According to wiki, it was under the Commonwealth of Independent States control.

So, the question itself is about something hypothetical, sort of "What if?".

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    Well, if Ukraine didn't own them, who did own them and then let Ukraine destroy them: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_weapons_and_Ukraine
    – Just Me
    Oct 15, 2020 at 19:57
  • 2
    @JustMe It wasn't Ukraine who destroyed the nukes. They gave all their nukes to Russia. Russia then destroyed them. Ukraine didn't have technical capability to do that.
    – CITBL
    Oct 16, 2020 at 9:23
  • @Just Me, written there "Ukraine held about one third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world at the time, as well as significant means of its design and production" so what? Maybe they had no launch codes but a piece of raw plutonium does not need any.
    – Stančikas
    Jul 12, 2022 at 15:33

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