ith each passing day, more Russian troops are being gathered at the border of Ukraine, awaiting an attack command. Despite the civil uprising that is taking place within Kyiv, the Ukrainian government does not seem to be as worried as it should be. This brings up speculation that Ukraine might be still holding onto some nuclear weapons as they have expected Russia to come over and claim their land.
Ukraine’s Nuclear Arsenal
During the era of the Soviet Union, a good portion of its nuclear arsenal was kept within Ukraine as it had the biggest number of nuclear silos and military bases. In 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed all of the nuclear missiles that were present within the country were now in the rightful hand of independent Ukraine.
The number of nuclear weapons they held at the time made them the third most powerful country in the world based on the size of their nuclear arsenal. In 1994 the Commonwealth had proposed for Ukraine to join the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Treaty. Ukraine agreed to join this treaty, meaning that it had to destroy all of its nuclear weapons.
The United Nations have set up an organization that would check every country that took part in the treaty to verify what they do with their nuclear material such as uranium reserves. This organization is known as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and they had presumably checked if Ukraine got rid of all its nuclear weapons in 1994.
In a review from 2009 published by IAEA, the Ukraine Ministry of Fuel and Energy has shown great competence towards agreeing to the terms provided by the treaty, however, the process of safeguarding what Ukraine actually does with its uranium reserves was still being implemented. IAEA might have failed to look at a large number of secret nuclear military bases still existent within Ukraine since the Soviet era, but they have remained secret for a reason.
Is Ukraine Hiding Something?
Throughout the many political debates, there have been many voices saying that Russia wants to invade Ukraine for its nuclear reserves as well as the military resources held within these secret Soviet military bases. There is also a possibility of Russia knowing that there are still hidden nuclear weapons within Ukraine which have not been accounted for by the Commonwealth and they want them. Russian officials have even hinted that their interest might be another Cold War with the U.S.
If this were true, then why did Ukraine let go so easy of Crimea in 2014? Many other countries that have agreed with the NPT treaty have received empty promises, something that Ukraine may have seen, especially in the 2014 event when Russia took Crimea by force and no one got involved. One interesting aspect is that since then Ukraine’s relations with the U.S and U.N have been so and so, especially with the civil war going on.
This means that the information shared with IAEA may have not been accurate. Since 2015 Ukraine’s uranium reserves have been going down quite significantly. From around 200,000 tones of Uranium to about 88,000 tones presented in 2020 via a review done by IAEA. The reserves may have been traded with other countries in need of nuclear material for power plants or could have been used for something secretive.