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Overview Last updated: September, 2014

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a sizeable nuclear weapons infrastructure. Its sudden possession of the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world left this newly independent country with a strategic decision on whether to return the weapons to Russia or become a nuclear weapon state itself. In the end, Ukraine, along with Kazakhstan and Belarus, decided to return their weapons and delivery systems to Russia and to join the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state.

Additionally, all three countries signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) and helped facilitate the transfer of all strategic and tactical nuclear warheads out of their territories, as well as the dismantlement and/or removal of all their associated launch systems and delivery vehicles. Kiev returned all chemical weapons to Russia for elimination, and is not known to have ever possessed biological weapons, though it may have been involved in some production of Soviet biological agents during its time as a part of the Soviet Union. Ukraine is a member of all of the major nonproliferation treaties and regimes, including the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Australia Group (AG), the Zangger Committee (ZC), the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missiles (HCOC).

Nuclear

Ukraine inherited a sizeable nuclear weapons arsenal from the former Soviet Union in the form of 130 SS-19 and 46 SS-24 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) with 1,240 warheads, and 44 Tupolev-95 and Tupolev-160 strategic bombers (with 1,081 nuclear cruise missiles). [1] Kiev also possessed an unspecified number of tactical nuclear warheads. However, Ukraine acceded to START I in 1992 and joined the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994, choosing to give up the nuclear weapons it had inherited from the Soviet Union. By June 1996, Ukraine had completed the transfer of approximately 1,900 strategic nuclear weapons to Russia (in return for nuclear reactor fuel), and deactivated all 176 ICBM silos located on its territory. [2]

With assistance from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration's Global Threat Reduction Initiative, Ukraine in March 2012 fulfilled its 2010 Nuclear Security Summit commitment to remove all Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) from its territory. Russia, which originally supplied Ukraine with HEU, accepted the returned 234 kilograms for downblending to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). [3] Ukraine has no indigenous uranium enrichment facilities, but relies upon 15 nuclear reactors to generate approximately half of its electricity. [4] The demand for electricity in Ukraine is expected to double by 2020 and increase by nearly 40 percent over the following decade. [5] Like its predecessor, the new Ukrainian government formed in 2014 hopes to meet half of this projected demand with nuclear power. [6]

Following a number of energy disputes with Russia, Kiev is looking to diversify its reactor fuel suppliers to reduce reliance on the Russian firm, TVEL and its parent company, Rosatom. In a bid to achieve this diversification, Ukraine's state-run nuclear energy firm Yadernoye Toplivo purchased a 10% share in the international nuclear fuel repository planned for Angarsk, Russia. [7] Increased tensions with Moscow due to the current crisis in Ukraine have provided further impetus for diversification of supply. In April 2014, Ukraine's National Nuclear Energy Generating Company (NNEGC EnergoAtom), the state enterprise that operates all currently operating power plants in Ukraine, extended an existing contract with American firm Westinghouse Electrical Company to supply fuel to three of its Russian-made nuclear power plants in southern Ukraine through 2020. [8]

Biological

Since its independence in 1991, Ukraine has not engaged in offensive or defensive biological weapons activities. Although some Ukrainian anti-plague research facilities were historically involved in Soviet defensive biological warfare (BW) activities, they were mainly responsible for civilian epidemiological investigations. [9] However, as with other Soviet anti-plague institutes, the Ukrainian anti-plague facilities may have provided virulent strains to the USSR Ministry of Defense or Biopreparat. They may also have developed vaccines against, and diagnostic materials for, pathogens weaponized by the Soviet military. [10]

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukrainian officials publicly stated that they viewed biological weapons proliferation as a threat to Ukraine's national security. Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program, and joined the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC). [11] Under an August 2005 Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement, the United States has been funding security upgrades at Ukrainian biological institutes where dangerous pathogens are kept. [12] In June 2010, a new disease research laboratory named the "Interim Central Reference Laboratory" opened in Odessa as part of the U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction program. The laboratory studies biological agents such as tularemiaanthrax and Q-fever. [13] The U.S. Government has upgraded nine Ministry of Health and Veterinary labs in Ukraine since 2013. [14]  

Chemical

Since gaining independence in 1991, Ukraine has not engaged in offensive or defensive chemical warfare (CW) activities. Prior to 1991, however, its territory was used by the Soviet government for chemical weapons storage and testing. The Red Army conducted marine tests with experimental chemical weapons in the Black Sea near the cities of Odesa and Sevastopol. The USSR also established storage sites in Zolotonosha (Cherkasy oblast), Ochakiv (on the Dnepr estuary and on the Black Sea), and Fastiv (Kiev oblast). [15] Ukraine transferred all of the chemical weapons on its territory to Russia by January 1992. Kiev is a party to the CWC, which it ratified in 1998.

Missile

Ukraine inherited significant Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) design and production capabilities from the Soviet Union. These included the Pivdenne (formerly Yuzhnoye) Design Bureau, responsible for the design of the SS-18 and the SS-24 ICBMs, and the Pivdenmash (formerly Yuzhmash) Machine-Building Plant, which was the primary producer of liquid-fueled ICBMs such as the SS-18. [16] Other former Soviet missile industrial complex facilities in Ukraine include the Pavlohrad Chemical and Mechanical Plants, which were also involved in ICBM manufacture, and the Khartron Production Association, which produced guidance systems. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, these enterprises, particularly Yuzhmash, remained involved in a variety of space projects, including cooperation with Russian firms on the conversion of ICBMs such as the SS-18 into space launch vehicles (SLVs). [17] In August 2014, amid growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, Russia announced that it would move production of high-pressure fuel tanks used in liquid fuel rocket engines out of Ukraine to the Voronezh Mechanical Factory in Russia. [18] The move may be part of an effort to reduce Russian dependence on space components built in Ukraine, which have, until this point, been an essential part of Russia's defense industry. [19] The loss of this contract will likely have significant economic repercussions for Ukraine, where defense contracts with Russia represent a major source of both employment and revenue. [20] Ukraine is a member of the MTCR and has signed the HCOC.

Sources:
[1] Mykola Riabchuk, "Ukraine's Nuclear Nostalgia," World Policy Journal, Winter 2009-2010, p. 95.
[2] "Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus," U.S. Department of Defense, www.dod.gov.
[3] "Fact Sheet: Ukraine Highly Enriched Uranium Removal," White House Press Release, 27 March 2012, www.whitehouse.gov.
[4] "Nuclear Power in Ukraine" World Nuclear Association, Updated August 2014, www.world-nuclear.org. Leonid Benkovskyi, "Nuclear Energy Prospects for Ukraine," Presentation to INPRO Dialogue Forum on Global Nuclear Energy Sustainability: Long-term Prospects for Nuclear Energy in the Post-Fukushima Era, 27-31 August 2012, www.iaea.org.
[5] "Nuclear Power in Ukraine," World Nuclear Association, Updated August 2014, www.world-nuclear.org.
[6] "Nuclear Power in Ukraine," World Nuclear Association, Updated August 2014, www.world-nuclear.org.
[7] "Ukraine Purchase Stake in International Nuclear Fuel Bank," Global Security Newswire, 8 October 2010, www.nti.org.
[8] "Westinghouse and Ukraine's Energoatom Extend Long-term Nuclear Fuel Contract," Westinghouse Press Release, 11 April 2014, http://westinghousenuclear.com; Alexander Bor, "Ukraine to resume Westinghouse fuel imports: energy minister," Nucleonics Week, 10 April 2014; Sean Carney, "Westinghouse, Ukraine Near Deal on Nuclear Fuel for Reactors," The Wall Street Journal, 3 April 2014, online.wsj.com.
[9] Serguei Popov and Marina Voronova, "Russian Bioweapons: Still the Best-Kept Secret?" The Nonproliferation Review, Fall 2004, Vol. 11, No. 3.
[10] Ukraine Ministry of Health, "I.I. Mechnikov Anti-Plague Scientific and Research Institute of Ukraine," Odessa, 2003.
[11] "Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus," U.S. Department of Defense, www.dod.gov.
[12] Roger Roffey, Wilhelm Unge, Jenny Clevstrom and Kristina Westerdahl, Support to Threat Reduction of the Russian Biological Weapons Legacy - Conversion, Biodefence and the Role of Biopreparat, (Umeå: Swedish Defense Research Agency, 2003); "U.S., Ukraine Sign Agreement to Counter Threat of Bioterrorism," America.gov, 29 August 2005, www.america.gov.
[13] "Germ Research Lab Opens in Ukraine," Global Security Newswire, 16 June 2010, www.nti.org.
[14] Defense Threat Reduction Office, "Biological Threat Reduction Program," U.S. Embassy Kyiv, http://ukraine.usembassy.gov.
[15] Lev Fedorov, Khimicheskoye oruzhiye v Rossii: istoirya, ekologiya, politika [Chemical Weapons in Russia: History, Ecology, Politics], (Moscow: Center of Ecological Policy of Russia, 1994).
[16] Nikolai Sokov, "Ukraine: A Postnuclear Country," in Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: Volume 2 A Comparative Perspective, eds. William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010), p.259.
[17] Nikolai Sokov, "Ukraine: A Postnuclear Country," in Forecasting Nuclear Proliferation in the 21st Century: Volume 2 A Comparative Perspective, eds. William Potter and Gaukhar Mukhatzhanova, (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010), p.259.
[18] Aleksander Tikhonov, "Proizvodstvo komponentov dlya raket perenesut s Ukrainy v Voronezh," Rossiyskaya Gazeta, 26 August 2014, www.rg.ru.
[19] Alexandra McLees and Eugene Rumer, "Saving Ukraine's Defense Industry," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 July 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org.
[20] Alexandra McLees and Eugene Rumer, "Saving Ukraine's Defense Industry," Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 30 July 2014, http://carnegieendowment.org.

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Ukraine

  • Transferred the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world back to Russia after the Soviet collapse
  • Member of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and Missile Technology Control Regime
  • No engagement in biological or chemical weapons activities since independence in 1991