RESEARCH DOCUMENT : Nuclear Weapons and Ukraine

Nuclear Weapons and Ukraine

Published: Dec 5, 2019

Briefing Book #691

Edited by Tom Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya
With research and editorial assistance by Andrei Shenin and Sarah Dunn

For more information, contact : 202-994-7000 or nsarchiv

American, Ukrainian, and Russian Cooperation Eliminated World’s Third Largest Nuclear Force in 1990s

Declassified Documents Illuminate Nonproliferation Success Story Now Dissed in All Three Countrie

Defense ministers from the U.S. (Perry), Ukraine (Shmarov), and Russia (Grachev) water newly planted sunflowers in 1996 at Pervomaysk, Ukraine, where an ICBM silo once stood. (Courtesy of Dr. Susan J. Koch)

Stained glass window celebrating the Nunn-Lugar program with the 43rd Rocket Army in Ukraine. (Courtesy of Dr. Susan J. Koch)

Map of 43rd Rocket Army installations in Ukraine, with inset photo of the commander, Gen. Volodymyr Miktyuk. (Courtesy of Maj. Gen. Nikolai Filatov)

A 43rd Rocket Army ICBM silo being dismantled, with funding assistance provided through the Nunn-Lugar program. (Courtesy of Maj. Gen. Nikolai Filatov)

Ambassador James F. Collins

Director Emeritus of the Russian Institute of U.S. and Canada Dr. Sergey Rogov

Conference session. From the left: Dr. Vladimir Pechatnov, Dr. Leopoldo Nuti, Ambassador Steven Pifer, Colonel General Evgeny Maslin, Ambassador Laura Holgate, Colonel General Viktor Esin, Lieutenant General Ihor Pustovoy, Dr. Mariana Budjeryn

Conference session. Ambassador Steven Pifer, Colonel General Evgeny Maslin, Ambassador Laura Holgate

Major General Nikolai Filatov shares a publication of his veterans’ club with Defense Secretary William Perry.

Dr. Rogov shares his experiences from the negotiations. From left to right: Dr. Sergey Rogov, Ambassador Collins, Ambassador Strobe Talbott, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk

First Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States Vladimir Lukin

Ambassador Laura Holgate makes an important point as General Viktor Esin listens.

Ukrainian MP and Minister of Environment Dr. Yuri Kostenko

Conference in session at La Bagnaia, Siena, Italy

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Dr. Susan Koch

Ambassador to NIS, Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott

Commander of Strategic Rocket Forces of Russia, member of the Russian Security Council Colonel General Victor Esin

Enjoying a light moment in discussion: Ambassador Strobe Talbott, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Dr. William Potter

Lieutenant General Ihor Pustovoy makes a strong point

Major General Nikolai Filatov donates a document to the project

Russian and Ukrainian Generals re-live the negotiations of the 1990s. From left to right: General Pustovoy, General Filatov, General Maslin

Project directors Tom Blanton and Svetlana Savranskaya

Washington D.C., December 5, 2019 – Cooperative threat reduction by the U.S., Ukraine, and the Russian Federation successfully eliminated the world’s third largest nuclear weapons force in the 1990s – the ICBMs, strategic bombers, and nuclear warheads left in Ukraine when the Soviet Union dissolved in December 1991 – according to declassified documents from all three countries published today by the National Security Archive.

The documents detail the intensive trilateral diplomacy over Ukraine’s nuclear legacy beginning even before December 1991, culminating in Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Kravchuk coming to agreement in Moscow in January 1994, the signing of the Budapest Memorandum 25 years ago today that provided security assurances to Ukraine – assurances that Russia subsequently violated – and the departure of the last nuclear weapon from Ukraine in June 1996.

The documents describe the vital role played by the Nunn-Lugar initiative that re-directed Defense Department dollars into the dismantlement of nuclear infrastructure in Ukraine and helped underwrite Russia’s conversion of fissile material from those warheads into fuel rods for Ukrainian power plants.

Today’s publication directly addresses current narratives in all three countries that are historically misleading. In the U.S., the impeachment controversy features almost total amnesia about the extraordinary contribution to U.S. national security made by Ukraine’s decision to disarm, removing over 1,900 strategic weapons targeted on the U.S. In Russia, the new nationalist discourse dismisses the Nunn-Lugar cooperative threat reduction as forced disarmament, forgetting that the consolidation of the Soviet nuclear legacy in Russia directly served Russia’s security interests. In Ukraine, nostalgia for nuclear status is on the rise, fueled by the Russian annexation of Crimea and war in Donbas, while ignoring the enormous costs to Ukraine (diplomatic, financial, environmental, and more) had nuclear weapons been retained in the 1990s.

The National Security Archive’s Nunn-Lugar Project staff compiled, edited, and translated these documents to serve as a briefing book for a critical oral history conference earlier this year on the U.S.-Ukraine-Russia trilateral cooperation. With the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, that discussion took place on September 20-22 at the Borgo Fileta conference center outside Siena, Italy, and included top diplomats from all three countries together with key generals and defense officials, all of whom were veterans of the removal of nuclear weapons from Ukraine in the 1990s. The full conference agenda and brief biographies of participants are included in today’s publication, together with photographs by Archive deputy director Malcolm Byrne. For other Nunn-Lugar documentary and conference publications, see svetlana.

Highlights of this briefing book include the practically verbatim memcons and telcons of President George H.W. Bush’s conversations with Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk, declassified by the Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, as the result of multiple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests by the National Security Archive since 1998. Bush Library files also were the source of National Security Council staff memos and copies of intelligence reports and diplomatic cables related to Ukraine in 1991 and 1992. At the Bush Library, Robert Holzweiss, Zachary Roberts, and Debbie Wheeler deserve special thanks for their work over many years to open these files.

Other highlights include the memcons and telcons of President Bill Clinton’s conversations with Presidents Yeltsin, Kravchuk, and Leonid Kuchma, declassified by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, as the result of FOIA and MDR requests by the National Security Archive since 2005. Clinton Library files also produced related NSC staff documents and cables from 1993 through 1996. At the Clinton Library, Rob Seibert and Kelly Hendren have been especially helpful in the declassification process.

Key State Department documents, including reports of highest-level conversations, came from multiple FOIA requests by the Archive to State in 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2017. At the State Department, senior reviewer Geoffrey W. Chapman brought a highly professional and much appreciated disclosure approach to the task of declassification.

Key Defense Department documents came from the retired files of former Secretary of Defense William Perry at the Federal Records Center, Suitland, Maryland, as the result of Mandatory Review requests by the Archive. Former aides to Perry’s predecessor, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, provided the Archive with a copy of his dictated diary from 1993, which was located in the papers of the late Professor Richard Ullman at Princeton.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry and Rada documents included in this briefing book are courtesy of Dr. Mariana Budjeryn, from her extensive archival research and interviews in Kyiv and elsewhere for her dissertation and her forthcoming book on Ukraine nuclear history. Translations from the Ukrainian are by Dr. Andrei Shenin.

The Russian Foreign Ministry and Duma documents included in this briefing book are the result of Dr. Savranskaya’s research in the State Archive of the Russian Federation (GARF). Other Russian documents came from the Kataev Collection at the Hoover Institution.

Key players in the early Nunn-Lugar program donated notes, files, and photographs to the Archive that are represented in this briefing book. These include Ambassador James Goodby, who negotiated the first Nunn-Lugar agreements with Ukraine; Major General William Burns, who coordinated the Nunn-Lugar initiative in 1992; Dr. Susan Koch, who served both in the Bush 41 National Security Council staff and in the Clinton Defense Department; and Dr. Joseph P. Harahan, who wrote the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s history of the Nunn-Lugar program.

Volodymyr Horbulin, who headed Ukraine’s space agency and served as President Kuchma’s national security adviser, personally gave the Archive his new 2019 memoir including an eloquent chapter on the nuclear negotiations, translated here by Sarah Dunn and published for the first time in English.

The late Yuri Dubinin, senior Russian ambassador who led the bilateral nuclear negotiations with Ukraine, provided the Archive with his detailed memoir of those discussions, translated here by Andrei Shenin. An alternative view, written by the head of the Ukrainian delegation, Yuri Kostenko, is forthcoming from the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.

Major General Nikolai Filatov, the last deputy commander of the 43rd Rocket Army in Ukraine, shared excerpts of his forthcoming book on “the lost nuclear missile shield of Ukraine” – translated here by Sarah Dunn.


  1. Memorandum of Conversation between President Bush and Ukrainian Supreme Soviet Chairman Leonid Kravchuk, August 1, 1991.

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