Ukraine as a Stepping Stone for the Second Nuclear Age

By Robbin Laird

Clearly, the Russian invasion of Ukraine was facilitated by Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons.

The agreement crafted by the United States and the UK to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine if it gave up its nuclear weapons was as worthless as the Munich agreement of 1938.

This will have lasting consequences for the Second Nuclear Age.

At an event celebrating the Non Proliferation Treaty hosted by Kazhkhstan, arms controller Rose Gottemoeller, the current Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security was asked about the impact of not honoring this agreement.

She sidestepped the issue and told the audience that we still have the START agreement and that we needed to work with the Russians.

Nicely avoiding the point is a rather brutal fact: if the Russians who signed the Ukraine agreement honored it as much as did the US and the UK — which is to say not at all — why does the START agreement matter?

Put bluntly, agreements and words do not matter a great deal when you can invade the country you have the agreement with and reset the agenda.

The question really is HOW you work with the Russians which matters.

Ed Timperlake and I recently looked back at Reagan and the Russians and asked nostalgically: how would Reagan have dealt with Putin?

This question is central because Putin learned his way ahead under the press events associated with the Euro Missile crisis which occurred under President Reagan and now he has his own version of the Euro Missile crisis and is working on President Obama.

Putin has continuity; Obama does not.

We argued in that op ed:

This week, national security experts and policy leaders gather at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library to discuss the state of America’s national defense. It’s a fitting setting. Thirty years ago this month, President Reagan won reelection by a landslide and then led the United States into the final phase of our Cold War victory over the Soviet Union.

If America’s 40th president were alive to see Russia’s current resurgence and its all-too-familiar policy of intimidation against Europe, he would know exactly what to do: confront the Russians with American and allied policies designed to check their ambitions across the board.

As Russian President Vladimir Putin tries to redraw the map and establish a sphere of influence through bullying his neighbors and violating their sovereignty, Western states need to rethink their policy agenda to ensure that Russia understands that aggression has a significant cost. Key Western states need to shape new strategic realities to which Russia must adjust in order not be marginalized in the global competition.

Now the Ukrainian ambassador has warned the West of the urgency of dealing with the Russians going into the winter season and preparing not for the Arab Spring but the Ukrainian one.

According to the memo sent by the Ambassador to the European Union ambassadors and dated November 12, 2014:

Please find attached copies of verbal notes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine that were transmitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on 6 and 11 November 2014.

Regular air reconnaissance of the territory of Ukraine, accumulation of the personnel and military equipment on certain directions, other military activities as well as rhetoric of the Russian leadership are clearly demonstrating that Russia is planning a new full- scaled offensive operation against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

It is high time for the European Union, which is standing on guard of the European values and principles, to undertake preemptive steps towards Russia’s blatant behavior in order to prevent a bloody catastrophe ever seen in the heart of Europe in the XXI century.

A proper response to rule of power promoted by the Russian side could consist of two- track approach. Firstly, a lasting and persistent diplomatic pressure is needed to engage Russia into a genuine and result-oriented dialogue, in particular within the Geneva format that proved to be the most relevant framework for elaborating peaceful solution. Secondly, diplomatic efforts should be enforced by a new wave of restrictive measures to clearly show that all red lines have already been crossed. These measures should include both personal restrictions against those who undermine peace process as recently did Russian actor Mr. Porechenkov and economic to raise cost for Russia for its destabilizing actions.

On the other hand, Russia’s obvious goal is also to veto reform process in Ukraine to turn it into failed state. In view of this we do count on EU’s political, technical and financial support of Ukraine’s resolve to implement a wide package of reforms focusing on judicial, anti-corruption, constitutional, decentralization, law-enforcement reforms as priorities.

To conclude, Ukraine remains strongly committed to a peace process given that there is a credible partner on the other side strictly abiding by the spirit of the Minsk agreements that clearly stipulate key prerequisites for success of this process such as immediate withdrawal of all Russian troops from Ukraine’s territory and restore of effective control over the border. 

And tactical nuclear weapons are almost certainly involved as well in preparing the defensive perimeter for Russia in dealing with the threat environment as they see it.

As Bill Gertz noted in a recent column,

Russia is moving tactical nuclear weapons systems into recently-annexed Crimea while the Obama administration is backing informal talks aimed at cutting U.S. tactical nuclear deployments in Europe.

Three senior House Republican leaders wrote to President Obama two weeks ago warning that Moscow will deploy nuclear missiles and bombers armed with long-range air launched cruise missiles into occupied Ukrainian territory.

“Locating nuclear weapons on the sovereign territory of another state without its permission is a devious and cynical action,” states the letter signed by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R., Calif.) and two subcommittee chairmen.

“It further positions Russian nuclear weapons closer to the heart of NATO, and it allows Russia to gain a military benefit from its seizure of Crimea, allowing Russia to profit from its action.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months “has escalated his use of nuclear threats to a level not seen since the Cold War,” they wrote.

And if one wishes simply to miss the point about Russian actions, Ukraine is part of a broader pattern as well.

As the Hudson Institute has noted:

Over the past few weeks, President Vladimir Putin—already seeking to modernize his nuclear forces in violation of the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Reduction Treaty—has moved Russia into an increasingly visible and aggressive nuclear posture.

In late August, Putin implicitly threatened to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations including Ukraine and the Baltic States. Moreover, while Russian strategic bombers repeatedly violate U.S. and Canadian air defense space, Putin is in the midst of establishing a naval base on the New Siberian Islands.

The second nuclear age is playing out in Ukraine, Korea, and in Iran.

The Russians are playing a leading role in reshaping the rules of the game.

It is time to pay attention.




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