Roundtable "20 Years of Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine: Conclusions and Lessons"

June 1, 2016 is a date to commemorate twenty years after the last nuclear warhead left the territory of Ukraine. Since then our country is among nearly 200 countries that do not have nuclear weapons. On the occasion of the anniversary of Ukraine getting rid of the world `s third nuclear capacity Odessa Center for Nonproliferation of Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University conducted a Roundtable "20 Years of Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine: Conclusions and Lessons" with the support of Swedish Radiation Safety Authority on Wednesday, April 27.

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The round table was attended by leading Ukrainian and foreign experts in the field of security. The journalists worked during the ceremony, and the event was shown in Odessa TV.

In particular, a member of Ukrainian parliament and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in 2005 - 2007 Borys Tarasyuk, Minister of Environment and Nuclear Safety of Ukraine in 1992 - 1998 Yuriy Kostenko, an MP of Ukraine of five callings Ivan Zaiets, former governor of Odessa region Sergei Grynevetsky.

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The US Ambassador to Ukraine in 1998 - 2000 Steven Pifer and special representative of the US President on nuclear security in 1995 - 1996, Ambassador at Large James Goodby and Professor Nikolai Sokov from Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey gave speeches in the online mode.

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The topic of nuclear weapons is particularly relevant and alarming in the current difficult situation in Ukraine. Many here believe that Ukraine should think about the resumption of its nuclear status. The Head of Odessa Center for Nonproliferation Polina Sinovets commented on this: "In the light of Crimea annexation and Donbas ATO we hear many voices condemning nuclear disarmament and emphasizing the role of nuclear weapons as the most powerful element of deterrence. The subject of nuclear weapons is widely exploited, and you can even find petitions in support of the restoration of Ukrainian nuclear status in popular social networks now". However, Polina Sinovets questioned the feasibility and worthwhileness of the re-entry of Ukraine into the narrow nuclear club. This idea was shared by all other qualified experts present at the round table, as far as nowadays Ukraine has neither technical nor economic capabilities to create its own nuclear weapons. Moreover, it, actually, does not need them because acquisition of these weapons not only would fail to solve the problems of Ukraine's security, but would also make our country a victim of complete international isolation.

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Many people in Ukraine now regret the loss of nuclear arsenal. One can often hear the opinion that if it is not possible to acquire nuclear weapons today, we shouldn`t have given them away in the 1990s, when the weapons were inherited by Ukraine as a huge bonus to newly acquired independence. However, a detailed analysis of the history of Ukrainian nuclear disarmament given by the round table participants showed that, in fact, nuclear weapons were not a valuable prize for a young Ukraine, but a dangerous burden, which we should have got rid of. Borys Tarasyuk, who was among those making the history of nuclear disarmament of Ukraine, shared memories of a difficult international situation, which hit Ukraine at the dawn of independence due to its delaying of the destruction of inherited Soviet military nuclear infrastructure.

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According to the Ukrainian diplomat: "In 1992 - 1993 the media image of Ukraine was extremely negative. Ukraine actually served as a pariah state (that is an outcast - OdCNP) in the mainstream media. Kravchuk was compared to Saddam Hussein. In fact, we had no opportunity to build something constructive. Both NATO and the European Union always returned us to the question of nuclear weapons". Thus, only our exit out of the nuclear club guaranteed the avoidance of the threat of complete international isolation and opened the way to integration into the world community and fruitful cooperation with advanced Western countries to Ukraine. At the time when not only Russia, but also leading Western countries pressured our newborn state, demanding it to get rid of the most powerful weapons in the world; when, at the same time, there was neither financial nor technical capacity to maintain and control a huge nuclear arsenal; the Ukrainian leadership had no other choice but to say goodbye to questionable nuclear status. The alternative to this, as Borys Tarasyuk noted, was the loss of independence and the transformation of Ukraine into a part of Russia.

As it was stressed by Yuriy Kostenko, in early 1990s the Ukrainian government and parliament never discussed the preservation of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. "No one at the political level ever set to become a full-fledged nuclear power in order to use nuclear weapons in the defense system of our country" - said Kostenko.

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The vast majority of politicians was perfectly aware of the danger of following the path of North Korea and they were unanimous that Ukraine should become a nuclear-free country. The discussions there were mainly about exactly how and in what time frame Ukraine should get rid of the dangerous Soviet nuclear legacy. In particular, vast repercussions were caused by Yuriy Kostenko`s comment that Ukraine had to spend about 4-6 billion dollars on the dismantling of the Soviet nuclear infrastructure, while the average annual budget of Ukraine in the early 1990s was only 8 billion dollars. In Kostenko`s opinion, fulfilling its commitment to nuclear disarmament, the Ukrainian leadership should have been obliged to ensure that the process of disarmament took place at the expense of Western countries and Russia, not laying a heavy burden on our country, which was suffering from an acute economic crisis. In other words, so that nuclear disarmament of Ukraine did not become a "nuclear impoverishment of Ukraine".

Therefore, the roundtable participants were far from speculations concerning the possibility of the restoration of the nuclear status of Ukraine and far from nostalgia about the lost nuclear weapons. Instead, the experts considered more pressing problems of Ukraine's security in the absence of nuclear weapons and in the light of violation of the Budapest Memorandum, the provisions of which promised protection from external aggression to Ukraine. All the participants of the round table agreed upon that Euro-Atlantic integration would be the best option to improve Ukrainian security, although not all agreed that NATO will accept Ukraine into its ranks. However, Ivan Zaiets, who is now the deputy head of the Ukrainian Movement for NATO, led by former President Leonid Kravchuk, assured colleagues that according to the data available to him, Ukraine's prospects for NATO membership stand up more clearly on the eve of the Warsaw Summit, though it may not happen immediately. According to Ivan Zayets, Ukraine should insist more strongly on its membership and rely primarily on the support of those Bloc representatives who are ready to act more decisively towards Russia. The first step for Ukraine should be the application for NATO membership.

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The results of the round table are of great scientific and practical importance. The experts have offered specific recommendations for the improving of Ukrainian security, which can be used by state leadership.

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In addition, the materials of the event will be used for the fundamental scientific work "Nuclear History of Ukraine", which is now being prepared by the Odessa Center for Nonproliferation. This research will be a unique analysis of the evolution of Ukrainian nuclear program since the Soviet era to the present day. The book will be introduced in several languages and its publication is planned for 2017. The release of this work on the nuclear history of Ukraine will undoubtedly become an important event in the scientific life of Odessa and Ukraine.