Sponsored by the Ukrainian Research Institute – Harvard and Co-sponsored by the US-Ukraine Foundation
Did Ukraine’s Non-Nuclear Status Invite Russia’s Aggression in 2014, and Could Things Have Been Different for Ukraine and the World with an Alternative Denuclearization Path?
A Discussion of Yuri Kostenko’s Book Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History with:
- Mariana Budjeryn, Research Associate, Project on Managing the Atom, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
- Yuri Kostenko, author of Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History
- Robert A. McConnell, Co-Founder of the US-Ukraine Foundation
- Serhii Plokhii, Mykhailo Hrushevskyi Professor of History and Director, Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard University, and author of Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe
Moderated by Svitlana Krasynska, Visiting Fellow, Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University, and editor of Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History
In his new book, Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History, published by the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard, Yuri Kostenko provides an insider’s account of how Ukraine relinquished the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal inherited by the country with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Nuclear weapons are considered a vital deterrent of aggression by those possessing it, so much so that North Korea, for example, considers its nuclear program the only guarantee of its survival, while Iran has agreed to limit its nuclear program only after substantial economic concessions from other nuclear nations.
By contrast, Ukraine joined the nuclear-free club in the early 1990s via a hasty process that did not always prioritize Ukraine’s national interests. In exchange for giving up a powerful deterrent, the fledgling state received vague “security assurances” from the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation in the famed Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994. Following Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014, a popular uprising that defended Ukraine’s European integration trajectory, Russia violated those assurances by invading and occupying Ukraine’s Crimea and by sponsoring an armed insurrection in Ukraine’s East. Despite the given assurances and contrary to Ukraine’s expectations, the West did nothing to stop the incursion and little to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russia’s aggression.
Yuri Kostenko, like many other Ukrainian politicians, has conflated Ukraine’s nuclear-free status with Russia’s aggression, arguing that, by giving up one of the only effective deterrents it had and without receiving meaningful security guarantees and adequate financial compensation in return, Ukraine undermined its own sovereignty and independence. These now almost 30-year-old events have been reverberating in Ukraine to this day, raising an array of questions – ranging from “what could have been?” to “what now?” – for scholars, politicians, and everyday citizens. In one instance, during the municipal elections in October 2020, President Zelensky administered a questionnaire, one part of which hinted at an unspecified enforcement of the Budapest Memorandum. In the US, the incoming Biden-Harris administration has signaled that it will rejoin the JCPOA, commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal. In light of these developments, what lessons does Ukraine’s denuclearization hold for Ukraine, the world, and the future of nuclear arms?
In an online conversation with the author of Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History, the panelists will discuss the events preceding and following Ukraine’s denuclearization as well as the denuclearization process itself, including Ukraine’s and global security concerns before and after Russia’s 2014 military involvement in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea.
About the Speakers
Mariana Budjeryn is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the International Security Program and Project on Managing the Atom. She is currently working on a book on nuclear disarmament of Ukraine, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mariana previously held fellowships at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, Harvard University (2018-2019) and International Security Program and Project on Managing the Atom (2016-2018). Mariana earned her Ph.D. in Political Science from Central European University in Budapest, Hungary.
Yuri Kostenko is a politician and leader of the Ukrainian People’s Party. From 1990 to 2014 he was a member of the parliament of Ukraine and from 1992 to 1998 held cabinet ministerships with portfolios governing environmental protection and nuclear safety. Kostenko was a top-level representative of Ukraine in the negotiations with the Western powers and Russia on the denuclearization of Ukraine in the 1990s.
Svitlana Krasynska was the Mihaychuk Postdoctoral Research Fellow at HURI in 2019-2020 and is currently conducting her research as a Visiting Fellow at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. She is the author of several scholarly publications, including a co-edited volume, The Nonprofit Sector in Eastern Europe, Russia, and Central Asia: Civil Society Advances and Challenges. Krasynska served as a scholarly editor and translator of Yuri Kostenko’s Ukraine’s Nuclear Disarmament: A History. Her current research focuses on civil society developments in Ukraine, particularly on the informal and grassroots organizations and initiatives.
Robert McConnell was Assistant Attorney General during Reagan Administration (1981-84), Vice President-Washington for CBS(1985-88), Of-Council, Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher (1989-99), Vice President, Armor Designs (2000-2012) and Principal of R.A. McConnell & Associated currently. In 1991 co-founded the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and continues with the Foundation as the Director of External Relations for the Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network.
Serhii Plokhii is the Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History and the director of the Ukrainian Research Institute. His interests include intellectual, cultural and international history of Eastern Europe, with emphases on Ukraine. He is the author of The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015), and most recently, Forgotten Bastards of the Eastern Front: American Airmen behind the Soviet Lines and the Collapse of the Grand Alliance (2019). His books have won numerous awards, including the Ballie Gifford Prize and the Shevchenko National Prize (2018).