Clinton-era deal for surrender of Ukrainian nukes left nation prey to Russian aggression: Bolton

The 1994 agreement, known as the Budapest Memorandum, was reached between the United States, Russia, and Britain, following the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Updated: February 24, 2022 - 10:31pm

A "peace dividend" agreement that in 1994 removed nuclear weapons from Ukraine seemed sensible at the time, but now has left that country weakened against a belligerent Russia, a former top ranking U.S. security official said Thursday. 

"The end of the Cold War meant there was no threat that we needed to worry about" and prompted the move to denuclearize Ukraine, said John Bolton, a former U.N. ambassador and national security adviser. "It was one of those agreements the Clinton administration reached in that period. Remember, it was the end of history."

The repercussions of that agreement are being felt today, he said.

"This is a wake-up call for us," Bolton said in an interview on the John Solomon Reports podcast. "And it's certainly a tragedy for the Ukrainian people. I think we're gonna see that over the next several days, a real tragedy."

The 1994 agreement, known as the Budapest Memorandum, was reached between the United States, Russia, and Britain, following the breakup of the Soviet Union. At the time, Ukraine possessed some 1,900 strategic nuclear warheads, comprising the world's third largest nuclear arsenal.

In an effort to reduce the number of countries that maintained nuclear arsenals, three nations — the U.S., Britain, and Russia — asked Ukraine to give up its nukes. In exchange, the three nations would "respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine" and "refrain from the threat or use of force" against it.

Ukraine relinquished the nukes. One country, Russia, did not sign the agreement.

Early Thursday morning, Russia launched a surprise invasion of Ukraine.

"It teaches us the lesson, that the way you achieve peace is through strength," Bolton said. "That's important. As Donald Rumsfeld used to say, strength is not provocative. Weakness is provocative."

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