photo: Leonid Bakka - The Day

Children of Pervomaisk preparing to blow up Ukraine's last remaining nuclear missile silo - The Day

Ukraine's last missile silo destroyed

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Ukraine Has Met Its Nuclear Commitments. And the West?

By Mykhailo ZUBAR, The Day

On October 30, the last Ukrainian ICBM silo for rockets called RS-22 here or SS-24 in the West and located near Pervomaisk in Mykolayiv oblast was destroyed. In so doing, Ukraine has fully met its commitments to the world community envisaged by the Lisbon Protocol to the SALT- 1 treaty. Under the protocol, Ukraine signed on the SALT-1 treaty and also, now as a non- nuclear state, joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Recall that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had 220 strategic weapon carriers on its territory, including 130 RS-18 (SS- 19), 46 sophisticated RS-22 missiles, and 44 strategic bombers carrying 1,068 long-range cruise missiles. Under the SALT-1 Treaty, the summary potential of this force was estimated at 1,944 nuclear charges. It should be mentioned that Ukrainian experts at the time, citing lack of experts, money, and experience, declared that it would be easier for Ukraine to destroy such a huge nuclear arsenal than to maintain it and ensure safe storage. Dragging its feet on nuclear disarmament could have cost Ukraine normal relations with the United States and EU as well as entail international isolation of the country, Western politicians at the time said.

Ukraine’s disarmament was presented as a necessary precondition for cooperation with the IMF and World Bank and the resulting flow of Western investment. In early nineties, representatives of the Ukrainian establishment often reiterated their adherence to Ukraine’s nuclear-free status, saying, however, that the destruction of the silos, withdrawal of nuclear arms to Russia, and retraining of Ukrainian servicemen would be costly and Ukraine would not be able to meet all the expenses on its own. Such statements, echoed by requests for financial assistance needed to destroy the nuclear arsenal, were viewed in the West and in Russia as blackmail.

Photos by Leonid BAKKA, The Day

The disarmament program got off the ground when the US Congress endorsed the Minimized Threat Program, also known as the Nunn-Lugar Program, which made it possible to set nuclear disarmament schedules for Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. This program also provided funding for destruction of the silos, withdrawal of nuclear arms to Russia, and the needed social programs. The corresponding agreement was signed on October 25, 1993. By then there were 130 RS-18 and 46 RS-22 missiles on standby duty in Ukraine as well as nine RS-22 missiles plus the first stage of the same missile in storage at the Pavlohrad Mechanical Plant, with one missile destroyed in 1998 under a static test program.

As reported by the Defense Ministry press service, Ukraine has fully completed all operations related to scrapping and recycling RS-18 missiles, decommissioning units involved in maintaining and operating these missiles, and destroying silos, command centers and other infrastructure. As a result, Ukraine decommissioned 13 RS-18 missile regiments, destroyed 130 silos, and 111 RS-18 missiles (19 RS-18 missiles were transferred to Russia).

According to the press service, the Defense Ministry also completed clean-up of the facilities, dismantled missile fuel stations, and reclaimed the land sites, on which the filing stations and storage depots were sited in Khmelnytsky and Pervomaisk.

On October 30, following the destruction of the last Ukrainian RS-22 silo, representatives of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense and the US Department of Defense signed an amendment extending until December 31, 2006 the existing agreement on cooperation in liquidating the infrastructure of weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine by rendering material and technical assistance and services along with the training of personnel. As the US Embassy in Ukraine declared, the US will allocate $30 million for this purpose in 2002.


In November 1993, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution On the Ratification of the Treaty Between the USSR and USA On the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Weapons of June 7, 1991 and the Protocol to the Treaty of May 23, 1992. The next stage was the signing on January 14, 1994 of the Trilateral Declaration by Presidents of Ukraine, Russia, and the United States under which Ukraine was to destroy all nuclear weapons on its territory, including strategic offensive weapons.

In November 1994, Verkhovna Rada adopted the Act on Signing of Ukraine on the Offensive Nuclear Arms Treaty which opened the way for mutual ratification and implementation of the SALT-1 Treaty. Ratification took place on December 5, 1994. In response to Ukraine’s voluntary gesture, a memorandum providing security guarantees for Ukraine was signed at the OSCE summit in Budapest, with all nuclear states soon becoming parties to it. Although some Ukrainian experts consider these guarantees inadequate, the existence of this document is certainly far better than nothing.

Still, many Ukrainian experts and diplomats believe that, necessary as it was, Ukraine’s nuclear disarmament could have followed different patterns and had better results for Ukraine.

The nuclear weapons are now gone. Only time will tell what the West might now find interesting here.

№31 November 05 2001 «The Day»
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