Ukraine: You promised to protect us if we gave up our nukes

Ukraine: You promised to protect us if we gave up our nukes
Aaron Chown/Pool Photo via AP

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister spent part of yesterday evening discussing the understanding that he believes exists between his country and the United States, along with most of the European Union. He’s bringing up some rather uncomfortable topics for the west, including promises that were allegedly made recently and some others that are rather deep in the past. Now that Russia has moved into eastern Ukraine in force and the situation continues to destabilize, Dmytro Kuleba told Fox News that Joe Biden has already promised to deliver more weapons to them so they can better defend themselves against the Russian army. But he also suggested that the White House can’t be dragging its feet because the barbarians are already literally at the gates. Later in the interview, Kuleba also reminded the world that there were certain long-standing promises made to his nation that don’t currently seem to be being fulfilled.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said President Biden promised his country more weapons from the U.S. for its bid to fight off a Russian invasion.

Asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier if his meetings with Biden Tuesday resulted in a promise of more U.S. weapons shipments to Ukraine, Kuleba said, “Yes,” before noting that such guarantees should be moved on quickly given the uncertainties around Russia’s intentions.

“The problem is we that we don’t have a clear understanding of Putin’s timeline… how he planned his further actions, neither here in Washington nor back in Kyiv,” Kuleba said. “So the only solution that we have under these circumstances is to act as swiftly as we can.”

Kuleba is still being reserved and polite, as one might expect from the country that’s asking for help. He also stressed that they are only looking for “defensive weapons” that will allow them to defend themselves against the Russian military. And they have never asked for American troops to show up and fight on their behalf. Of course, the term “defensive” becomes a bit gauzy in a situation like this. Russian troops and hardware are already in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. If they attempt to expand further and you attack their troops to stop them, is that a “defensive maneuver?” What if the Ukrainians try to move in and retake the recently “recognized” (by Russia) breakaway territories?

Later in the interview, Kuleba sounded a bit more pointed in reminding the White House of its history with Ukraine, while not sounding completely accusatory. He said, “Ukraine abandoned the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world” for “security guarantees” promised by the U.S.” He was, of course, referring to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, where Ukraine agreed to join the nuclear nonproliferation agreement in exchange for western protection from future Russian aggression.

To suggest at this point that we aren’t witnessing “Russian aggression” would be insulting, so Kuleba clearly has a point. But at the same time, Biden has repeatedly stated that our only response to a Russian invasion would be of an economic nature. So have other NATO leaders. Somehow, I don’t imagine that Ukrainian families in the Donetsk region will be taking much comfort in Putin losing access to western banking institutions while some stormtroopers are kicking in their doors.

Of course, as soon as you resurrect the memory of the Budapest Memorandum, some of the worst-case scenarios that nobody wants to talk about begin coming to mind. The fundamental message to Ukraine at that time was that they didn’t need to have their own tactical weapons to counter the Russian nuclear arsenal because the American nuclear forces would be available to have their back. In the hopefully unlikely event that the fighting spills over outside of Ukraine and onto NATO turf (which Biden has repeatedly said we will fight to protect “every inch” of), are we then facing the prospect of somebody firing off a nuke?

This morning, Tyler Rogoway of The War Zone perhaps belatedly mourned the global failure to prioritize the reversal of nuclear proliferation.

It’s something to think about if we’re truly interested in being prepared for all possible outcomes. Someone being the first to deploy a nuclear weapon in the modern era used to be unthinkable. But we’re living in the 2020s now and a lot of unthinkable things are happening all around us. It all depends on whether or not Putin has it in him to back down and withdraw from Ukraine if the financial pain becomes too great. (Doubtful at best.) Or would he be willing to stop his advance and settle for a “partition” of Ukraine, as Ed Morrissey recently pondered? Perhaps, but then he would be ignoring the remainder of a country that he has essentially declared doesn’t have a right to exist.

You probably thought 2020 was terrible, right? Me too. But for the umpteenth time, we’re clearly going to need to recognize that we have all lived to see interesting times.

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