Ukraine: The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances

2nd March 2022 / Global
Ukraine: The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances

There are a number of social media posts stating that several countries are contravening the ‘Budapest Treaty’ over Ukraine. Technically, there is no treaty but there is a series of agreements called the ‘Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.’ It refers to three identical political agreements signed at the OSCE (The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is the world’s largest regional security-oriented intergovernmental organization with observer status at the United Nations) conference in Budapest, Hungary on 5 December 1994.

Its purpose was to provide security assurances by its signatories relating to the accession of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The memorandum was originally signed by three nuclear powers: the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States. In addition, China and France gave somewhat weaker individual assurances in separate documents.

The memorandum included security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. As a result of other agreements and the memorandum, between 1993 and 1996, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons.

It is, therefore true that the UK and USA (and Russia supposedly) are to supply security in the event of threats to Ukraine’s territorial integrity or political independence.

At the time, Ukraine had the world’s third-largest nuclear weapons stockpile of which Ukraine had physical but no operational control. Russia controlled the codes needed to operate the nuclear weapons via the Russian command and control system. 

Belarus, which only had mobile missile launchers, and Kazakhstan quite quickly chose to return the nuclear warheads and missiles to Russia. However, Ukraine went through a period of internal debate on its approach and wanted reassurances that it would be defended in the event of aggressive acts of war against its territorial sovereignty.

On 23 May 1992, Russia, the U.S., Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine signed the Lisbon Protocol to the START I treaty, ahead of ratifying the treaty later. The protocol committed Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to adhere to the NPT as non-nuclear weapons states as soon as possible. However the terms for the transfer of the nuclear warheads were not agreed upon, and some Ukrainian officials and parliamentarians started to discuss the possibility of retaining some of the modern Ukrainian built RT-23 (SS-24) missiles and Russian built warheads.

Later in 1993 the Ukrainian and Russian governments signed a series of bilateral agreements giving up Ukrainian claims to the nuclear weapons and the Black Sea Fleet, in return for $2.5 billion in gas and oil debt cancellation and future supplies of fuel for its nuclear power reactors. Ukraine agreed to ratify the START I and NPT treaties promptly.

On 15 December 1993, U.S. Vice President Al Gore visited Moscow for a pre-planned meeting. Following side discussions, a U.S and Russian delegation, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, flew to Ukraine to agree on the outlines of a trilateral agreement.

A Trilateral Statement with a detailed annex was agreed, based on the previously agreed terms but with detailed financial arrangements and a firm commitment to an early start to the transfer of at least 200 warheads to Russia and the production in Russia of nuclear reactor fuel for Ukraine. However Ukraine did not want a commitment to transfer all warheads by 1 June 1996 to be made public for domestic political reasons, and Russia did not want the financial compensation for uranium made public concerned that Belarus and Kazakhstan would also demand this. It was decided to exclude these two matters from the published agreement, but cover them in private letters between the countries’ presidents.

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One key point was that the English language draws a distinction between “guarantee” and “assurance”, not present in Ukrainian or Russian, and it was agreed that the lesser sense of the English word “assurance” would apply for all three language versions of the statement. However, to Ukraine and Russia – assurance really means a guarantee.

President Clinton made a courtesy stop at Kyiv on his way to Moscow for the Trilateral Statement signing, which was signed by the three presidents in Moscow in front of the media on 14 January 1994.

After this was agreed, the U.S. used its Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programme to provide financial, over $300 million (equivalent to $524 million in 2020), and technical assistance in decommissioning the nuclear weapons and delivery systems which took to 2008 to fully complete. The U.S. also doubled other economic aid to Ukraine to $310 million (equivalent to $541 million in 2020) for 1994.

In 2009, Russia and the United States released a joint statement that the memorandum’s security assurances would still be respected after the expiration of the START Treaty.

After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US (note the absence of China) stated that Russian involvement was a breach of its Budapest Memorandum obligations to Ukraine which had been transmitted to the United Nations under the signature of Sergey Lavrov and others and in violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On 4 March 2014, the Russian president Vladimir Putin replied to a question on the violation of the Budapest Memorandum, describing the current Ukrainian situation as a revolution: “a new state arises, but with this state and in respect to this state, we have not signed any obligatory documents.” Russia stated that it had never been under obligation to “force any part of Ukraine’s civilian population to stay in Ukraine against its will.” Typically, Putin stated that the US was in violation of the Budapest Memorandum and went on the describe the Euromaidan as a US-instigated coup.


Image: U.S. President Clinton, Russian President Yeltsin, and Ukrainian President Kravchuk after signing the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances



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