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And the Ukraine example proves it, writes Andreas Umland in World Affairs Journal:
Not everyone in Europe agrees with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent description of Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “criminal.” Across the EU, Kremlin lobbyists, America-haters, and those the Germans call Putinversteher (“Putin-understanders”) disseminate justifications and apologies for Russia’s absorption of the Black Sea peninsula and its hybrid war in the Donets Basin, also known as the Donbas. Such “explanations” partly succeed because most citizens of the West are, in fact, not particularly interested in Crimea, the Donbas, or Ukraine as a whole. First and foremost, EU citizens want calm. International law is not national legislation. Ukraine’s problems ultimately belong to the Ukrainians.
Yet, if the injustices of Vladimir Putin’s slow-motion assault on Ukraine leave them somewhat cold, there is one dimension of the conflict that should bring the “crisis” home to Europeans: the concrete, written commitments made by Russia and other UN Security Council member states in connection with Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest arsenal of nuclear warheads when it gained its independence in 1991. Most of the nuclear weapons left behind by the Soviet regime in Ukraine, to be sure, were not deployable, since the launch codes remained in Moscow and Ukraine had no technology to guide its inherited rockets. But in theory Kyiv could have reset the fire-control systems, and built or acquired necessary additional technology to make its nuclear arsenal at least partially operational. In 1991, the Ukrainian armed forces possessed numerous intercontinental ballistic missiles, long-range bombers and their payloads, as well as additional nuclear warheads—according to estimates by the US Natural Resources Defense Council, a total of 4,025 units, or 15 percent of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal. At this point, in other words, Ukraine had far more atomic weapons than the United Kingdom, France, and China combined. Even if Ukraine had retained and made operational only a fraction of these weapons, today it would be a much-feared nuclear power.
Yet it didn’t. Under diplomatic pressure from Moscow and Washington, Ukraine turned over all of its nuclear weapons to Russia after signing the Lisbon Protocol in 1992, which obligated ex-Soviet countries to surrender their arsenals. But it didn’t turn them over immediately. In Kyiv, there was already then suspicion that the northeastern neighbor could one day seek to exploit the defenselessness of “Little Russia,” as Russian nationalists often refer to Ukraine. After delaying the protocol’s ratification for several months, Ukraine was assured of its territorial integrity, national borders, and political sovereignty by all five permanent members of the Security Council in December 1994, at a summit in Budapest for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (now the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Three of the five (Russia, the US, and the UK) did so in a multilateral document signed with Ukraine; two (China and France) issued unilateral declarations of their governments. The five countries’ assurances, as well as promises of help against future foreign political and economic pressure in the Budapest Memorandum, convinced Ukraine to relinquish its remaining weapons of mass destruction. …
All of this could continue to remain irrelevant to Western citizens, if not for the NPT. Twenty years after Ukraine signed the treaty, one of its recognized nuclear weapon state ratifiers violated almost every point of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, annexing a prime piece of Ukrainian state territory by military force, and prosecuting a hybrid yet bloody war in eastern Ukraine that has so far resulted in thousands dead, tens of thousands injured and traumatized, as well as hundreds of thousands of refugees. At the same time, Russia is waging a concerted trade, cyber, and information war against Ukraine, using large-scale military exercises on the border to poison the economic and investment climate in its “brother country.” …
When supposed guarantors of the international nonproliferation regime so dramatically turn their backs on the inviolability of borders, the message to all current and future national leaders is clear: Your own atomic deterrent is the only effective instrument for ensuring your country’s full sovereignty.