Paula J. Dobriansky, Atlantic Council board director, writes in USA Today on Russia’s invasion of Crimea:
The world seems to have forgotten that Ukraine began its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 as a major nuclear power, possessing the world’s third largest nuclear force, more powerful than Chinese, British and French forces combined. That capability gave Ukraine great foreign policy leverage with Russia and other countries.
No doubt, Ukraine probably wishes that leverage was still available today to resist the aggression of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, promptly persuading Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons capability was a major foreign policy objective of the United States, Britain, France and Russia. As a result of pressure from those countries, Ukraine gave up its nuclear power by 1996 — but with a significant precondition. Ukraine obtained an unprecedented set of security guarantees from these countries, which were memorialized in the Budapest Memorandum. The declaration committed Russia, Britain and the U.S. to respect Ukraine’s borders, abstain from the use of force against Ukraine, and forego economic coercion. Even China and France, while not signing the declaration, sent diplomatic notes expressing their support.