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History As It Happens

Jan 31, 2023

When Ukraine acceded to Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1994, the country’s leaders fulfilled a vow they had made as soon as Ukraine became an independent state in 1991. Ukraine would relinquish the thousands of nuclear warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles on its territory – it’s “nuclear inheritance” after the collapse of the USSR. Looking back at that decision through the lens of Russia’s invasion one year ago, some observers now contend that Ukraine made a mistake by voluntarily ceding its potential nuclear deterrence, although Ukraine never had independent operational command and control over the weapons. Moreover, as political scientist and nuclear historian Mariana Budjeryn demonstrates in her new book, “Inheriting the Bomb,” the majority of Ukrainian political and military leaders in the early 1990s viewed holding onto the nukes as more dangerous than it might be worth. In this episode, Budjeryn discusses the momentous events and decisions that resulted in Ukraine transferring all its nuclear weapons to Russia to be dismantled. She illuminates an important chapter in international relations that left Ukraine in a diplomatic and political no man’s land from which it could not completely extract itself over the next 30 years.