In  Budapest, Hungary, on, Dec. 5, 1994, four nations released a “Memorandum on Security Assurances in connection with Ukraine’s “Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.” It called for the signers to reaffirm their commitment to Ukraine and to respect its independence, sovereignty and existing borders.      

Its signatories were Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine; Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation; United Kingdom Prime Minister John Major and President William J. Clinton. 

Two days later, members of the United Nations General Assembly put together a similar letter reaffirming their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and promising that none of their weapons would ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

That document was signed by four Permanent Representatives to the U.N.:  Anatoli Zlenko of Ukraine; Sergey V. Lavrov of the Russian Federation; David Hannay of the United Kingdom and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright of the United States.

These steps were pursued by the three major powers–United States, Britain and Russia–following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.            

The alteration of the balance of power following the collapse had led to a unipolar in lieu of a bipolar world, which had existed since1945. It was something the French had warned about; that minus a check on America as a superpower, a dangerous imbalance in the global dynamics of power could very well result.  Indeed, the global dynamics of power were now out of sync.         

Minus the Soviet Union, newly minted Ukraine had become the third-ranking nuclear power in the world — a development unacceptable to Washington, London and particularly Moscow.  The massive ex-Soviet military presence in Ukraine had to be eliminated.         

Under the Trilateral Agreement signed by Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the United States on Jan. 14, 1994, Ukraine’s nuclear weapons were to be turned over to Russia for elimination, including the strategic option, in the guise of the following: 130 SS-19 intercontinental ballistic missiles (with upwards of six warheads each); 46 SS-24s (upwards of ten warheads each); 30 Bear H and Blackjack bombers, able to haul 416 nuclear bombs — all for a total capability of 1,696 weapons.  Indeed, the last strategic missile silo in Ukraine was destroyed in 2001.          

In less than 20 years, the pledge to respect Ukrainian territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty by “concerned” major powers has become one of the most impious of hypocrisies. For Ukraine has become the bone of contention among the powers engaged in the Great Game for resources and financial advantage which has left the object of the exercise in a position of political, economic and strategic distress. 

It is a sordid result that has not gone unnoticed over the years in capitals such as Tehran and Pyongyang.  Perhaps the way to preserve national autonomy is with nuclear weapons, since major power assurances are not worth the paper they are printed on. 

Mark Albertson lives in Norwalk.