Russian Nuclear Capability in Crimea: Why the Budapest Memorandum Still Matters

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Russian Nuclear Capability in Crimea: Why the Budapest Memorandum Still Matters

By Markian Bilynskyj, U.S.-Ukraine Foundation's Vice President in Kyiv

The Russian Federation has illegally deployed rockets with nuclear warheads in temporarily occupied Crimea together with nuclear-capable aircraft. This point was made by Bohdan Ustymenko, an expert in maritime law and adviser to the US-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Initiative, in an exclusive commentary for one of Ukraine’s largest news organizations, OBOZROVATEL.

According to Mr. Ustymenko, in January 2015 the Russians established in Crimea a territorial organ for the 12th Main Administration of the Russian Ministry of Defense (12 MA). The main function of this entity is to provide technical, command and control, and support for nuclear operations.

“Several sources have provided information that since 2016 nuclear tipped missiles are being stored in the vicinity of military unit 6915 in the village of Krasnokamyanka near Feodosia (in Soviet times it existed under the designation 62047, objective “Feodosia-13”). Officially, this entity is currently subordinated to the National Guard of the Russian Federation. Intelligence has also established that systems - specifically aircraft - capable of carrying nuclear weapons are permanently deployed on the territory of the peninsula” said Ustymenko.

He added that because of this situation not only Ukraine but also the whole eastern flank of NATO as well as the headquarters of the 6th Fleet near Naples are all threatened by a possible nuclear strike. “Russia has in fact violated the Budapest Memorandum twice. The first time was with its incursion into a sovereign Ukraine; and the second was when it deployed nuclear warheads within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine - which had willingly surrendered its nuclear forces on the basis of an international agreement, the fundamental basis of international law.”

Mr. Ustymenko stressed that the assertions of Russian propaganda that the Budapest Memorandum is just a piece of paper with no legal implication is a “fake” claim, an element of Russia’s informational warfare that has been successfully used against Ukraine in the past and an argument that continues to be pushed by agents of the Kremlin. Mr. Ustymenko is therefore convinced that Point 6 of the Budapest Memorandum should still be invoked and a meeting involving the US, the UK and the Russian Federation convened to extend the guarantees given in exchange for Ukraine’s giving up its nuclear munitions.

“Of course, an immediate ‘miracle’ cannot be expected once the legally existing Budapest Memorandum is invoked. But this step would help to officially involve Ukraine’s powerful allies – the United States and the United Kingdom – in negotiations with the Russian Federation over the demilitarization and de-occupation of Ukrainian territories.   At the same time we must have a strategic appreciation that the situation within Russia itself will not always be the same as it is today. That’s why Ukraine needs to be prepared for every eventuality”, said Mr. Ustymenko.

As OBOZREVATEL pointed out, Ustymenko had earlier warned that there was a high probability that Russia could be preparing a further incursion into Ukraine – this time from the sea - in autumn this year. Should this scenario occur it would pose a very genuine threat to the cities of Odesa, Kherson and Mykolayiv.