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Last updated: March, 2016

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine inherited a large strategic nuclear arsenal in the form of the Strategic Rocket Forces' 43rd Rocket Army, equipped with over 100 UR-100N (NATO: SS-19 “Stiletto”) and RT-23 (NATO: SS-24 “Scalpel”) ICBMs. [1] Kyiv also found itself in possession of over 40 strategic bombers and more than 1,000 air-launched cruise missiles. By the end of 1996, however, Ukraine renounced its inherited Soviet nuclear arsenal and acceded to the START I Treaty and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear weapon state. [2] Subsequently, Ukraine eliminated or transferred to Russia its strategic bombers, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and missile silos, with U.S. financial assistance. The largest remaining missiles in Ukraine's possession are the Tochka (NATO: SS-21 "Scarab") tactical ballistic missiles, and the S-200 (NATO: SA-5 "Gammon") long-range anti-aircraft missiles. Although Ukraine also inherited a number of Scud-B tactical ballistic missiles, it is not clear whether these systems are operational. [3]

Ukraine is capable of producing advanced intercontinental range ballistic missiles, and its missile industry is second only to Russia's among the former Soviet republics. The linchpin of this industry is the former Yuzhnoye Scientific Production Association, arguably the preeminent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) design and production facility in the former Soviet Union, whose capabilities are matched only by a handful of U.S. and Russian missile enterprises. Ukraine's missile industry suffered considerably during the 1990s because of the severe economic crisis that afflicted the country and the loss of its primary customer. The crisis led to a deterioration of design and production infrastructure, as well as the loss of a qualified technical cadre at Ukraine's missile facilities. [4] Although Ukraine has attempted to embark on a number of joint projects with Western countries, implementation of these projects has been slow, leaving Russia as Ukraine's most important partner in this field and the sole source of funding for some of its missile enterprises. The combination of the difficult financial situation confronting Ukraine's missile facilities and their technological prowess has made them vulnerable targets for countries of proliferation concern. [5]

Ukraine's missile industry was a component of the much larger Soviet missile and space industry, and as a result, while Ukraine inherited outstanding capabilities in some areas (e.g., one of the world's most highly regarded ballistic missile design bureaus and production facilities), it is lacking in many other areas. [6] For example, the programmatic decisions made in Moscow on the direction of the Soviet rocket industry left Ukraine without its own rocket launch facilities, other than the ballistic missile silos of the Strategic Rocket Forces deployed on its territory. Whereas in most cases a country's missile industry is the product of long-term efforts directed at achieving a specific goal, Ukraine's missile industry is largely a random collection of former Soviet facilities that happen to be located on what became independent Ukrainian territory following the USSR's collapse. [7]

During its early years of independence, Ukraine's work on ballistic missile design and production ceased for a period of time. However, Kyiv still possessed the potential to manufacture ballistic missiles. In May and June 1997, the Secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council Volodymyr Horbulyn asserted that Ukraine retained the right to build and deploy short-range nuclear-capable missiles (with ranges below the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) threshold of 500km), if its security were threatened. [8] Since 2005, Ukrainian defense and industry officials have discussed ongoing efforts to indigenous design and produce a cruise missile and a tactical ballistic missile with export potential. [9]

Ukrainian facilities continue to produce space launch vehicles (SLVs) and components for them. Ukraine possesses Tsyklon and Zenit rocket types, and is reportedly continuing to work on new variants. [10] In addition, Ukrainian firms are working on a project to convert retired R-36M ICBMs into Dnepr SLVs for use in commercial space launches from Russia. Ukraine hopes to preserve as much of its rocket industry as possible, which it regards as the most important high-tech sector of its economy. However, Kyiv's ability to finance new ventures is limited. Additionally, Russia is seeking to diversify its suppliers of space components in an effort to wean itself off of equipment built in Ukraine; the strained relationship between Russia and Ukraine as a result of the current crisis has contributed to Russia's interest in decreasing dependence on Ukrainian-built components. As a result, in August 2014, the Russian-based Voronezh Mechanical Factory announced it had been awarded a contract worth 1 billion rubles from the Russian federal budget to produce fuel tanks for liquid-fuel rocket engines. [11] Shortly after the announcement on October 15, 2014, Russian and Ukrainian news outlets reported that the Southern Machine-Building Plant (Yuzhmash) in Ukraine, which served as the key missile producer for Soviet ICBM and space programs, was on the brink of bankruptcy. [12] In an effort to offset the loss of contracts with Russian customers, general director of Yuzhmash, Sergei Voight, expressed the company's interest in collaborating with NASA in the development of American rockets in late September 2014. [13] The Ukrainian government does not have any plans to develop a domestic space launch facility.

Ukraine participates in a number of international space programs and consortia, including Sea Launch, and a project to launch rockets from the Alcantara space launch facility in Brazil. The unique origin and current status of Ukraine’s missile and space industry means that it does not have its own space launch facilities; therefore it is necessary that all launches using Ukrainian rockets take place from facilities in Kazakhstan, Russia, or the Sea Launch platform.

As of March 2014, Ukraine was pursuing the following civilian rocket and military missile projects:

Sea Launch Project is an international project involving Ukrainian Pivdenne Design Bureau and Pivdenmash Machine-Building Plant, Boeing, Kvaerner, and Russia's RKK Energiya. The project's work focuses on commercial satellite launches of Zenit-3SL rockets from a sea platform, Odyssey. Ukrainian enterprises' total share in the project is 15 percent. The first Sea Launch-related contract with Ukrainian facilities took place on 11 September 2000, when Pivdenmash/Pivdenne Design Bureau signed a contract to deliver 80 Zenit-3SL rockets. The jointly owned Sea Launch Company declared bankruptcy in 2010, but after a restructuring resumed operations in late 2011. [14] The head of Russia's United Rocket and Space Corporation, Igor Komarov, indicated that Russia will evaluate the future of its collaboration with Ukraine on the Sea Launch project by the end of the year owing to increased tensions resulting from the current crisis in Ukraine. [15]

Kosmotras is a Russo-Ukrainian joint venture that conducts commercial satellite launches of Dnepr SLVs (converted R-36M / NATO: SS-18 ICBMs) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and Yasny launch base in Russia's Orenburg region. Kosmotras has secured a number of foreign contracts for satellite launches. Since 2010, Kosmotras has performed 20 orbital flights for a variety of space agencies and commercial companies. [16] It is not clear what the future of this joint venture will hold, as SS-18 stocks are finite, and the number of such ICBMs available for commercial launches may have been reduced following the failure of START II to enter into force and the subsequent Russian decision to retain R-36 ICBMs in military service to the end of their extended service life. [17]

Alcantara Tsyklon Space: In July 2002, Ukraine ratified an agreement with Brazil concerning long-term cooperation in the space sector, including the development of Brazil's Tsyklon-4 SLV. The cost of the project was estimated at $180 million, which was equally shared by Ukraine and Brazil. Ukraine hoped that this cost would be recouped after 36 commercial launches. Over 50 Ukrainian firms were reportedly set to participate in this effort. [18] After some delays in the project, active cooperation began in 2006, and the first launch was expected in 2012, but has been delayed until 2015. [19] Azovmash, the Ukrainian contractor responsible for manufacturing one of the main key systems for Tsyklon-4's launch site operation, confirmed in April 2014 that the second phase of the project had been completed in spite of the current crisis in Ukraine. [20]

Sapsan Multi-Functional Missile Complex (MFMC): In 2005 President Viktor Yushchenko announced the development of the Sapsan MFMC, with the intention of supplying it to the Ukrainian military for use on the battlefield. Designed in 2006, the system was intended to combine both tactical and theater-of-war missiles with a range of up to 280km. Although originally scheduled for deployment in 2015, the project was suspended in June 2013, reportedly owing to a lack of funding from the Ukrainian defense ministry. [21] At that time, Pivdenne began developing a similar system, Grom-2 (Thunder-2) for export. [22] In February 2014, reports suggested that the Sapsan development program might resume in partnership with Belarussian MIC enterprises. [23] In June 2014, an unnamed source in the Ukrainian defense and industrial complex confirmed that development of the Sapsan MFMC may continue, particularly in light of the crisis in Ukraine. The source suggested that cooperation with Russia would likely be reevaluated. [24]

Russia remains Ukraine's most important foreign partner in the missile sector, with Russian companies playing central roles in most Ukrainian rocketry projects. Because Ukraine's missile industry consists of former Soviet missile industry components, it is still neither self-contained nor self-sufficient, and relies heavily on continued cooperation with its Soviet-era partners. In February 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a joint statement pledging both countries to expand cooperation in the aerospace industry. Details of the agreement included joint space services, continuation of the Dnepr, Tsyklon, and Zenit SLV projects, and support for Sea Launch. [25]

However, Russia requires Ukrainian assistance in the missile industry as well, as many prominent missile types still used by the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces were designed, manufactured, and/or assembled at then Soviet facilities located in what is now Ukraine. Ukraine therefore remains critically involved in the modernization of the Russian strategic arsenal. During the debates in the Russian parliament on START II ratification, Pivdenmash reportedly received a Russian request for information on the feasibility of restarting ICBM production in Ukraine. [26] Additionally, in 2003 Ukraine's National Space Agency transferred approximately 30 non-deployed UR-100N (NATO: SS-19 “Stiletto”) to Russia, a move that helped modernize the Russian UR-100N force. Today, Ukraine's enterprises, under contract with the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces, continue to provide a wide range of services aimed at extending the service life of those missile complexes still in use. The contract to provide life extension services for Russia's R-36M (NATO designation SS-18 'Satan') missiles systems was renewed in a Russo-Ukrainian treaty signed in January 2008. [27]

Nonetheless, there have been more recent indications that Russia wishes to reduce its reliance on Ukrainian technical expertise. Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov suggested in February 2009 that Russia wished to ensure that its weaponry is both domestically produced and maintained. Ivanov stated that "we could be entirely independent of Ukrainians when we completely re-armed the Strategic Missile Troops and the Air Force with domestic weaponry.” [28] However, such independence may prove difficult to achieve until missiles such as the R-36M are removed from active service and replaced with entirely Russian developed and built systems. In June 2014, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov announced that, within 2.5 years, the country will wean itself completely from imported Ukrainian defense products. [29] With this goal in mind, Russia has made plans to develop its own Sarmat missile system to replace Ukrainian-produced Satan missiles. [30] This decision comes on the heels of new rounds of US and European sanctions against Russia as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's June 2014 ban on exporting Ukrainian defense technologies to Russia. [31] Reports suggest, however, that, in spite of the ban, Ukrainian facilities continue to export defense products to Russia in fulfillment of existing contracts. [32]

Ukraine has also made attempts to attract investments from other countries for its missile industry. In particular, Ukraine has approached Japan with proposals for investments and cooperation in space exploration and the aerospace industry. However, Japan has not appeared to have shown much interest. [33] Ukraine has also approached the United States in the hopes of providing SLVs for launching components of the U.S. National Missile Defense (NMD) system into orbit. The former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual announced on 11 April 2002 that the United States and Ukraine may cooperate in the area of ballistic missile defense. Pascual told journalists that Ukraine had some of the world's best space launch technologies at its disposal, and that Ukraine understood that WMD technology proliferation to states of concern may have become the world’s greatest threat. [34] Nevertheless, the generally supportive U.S. attitude has yet to translate into actual inter- governmental contracts.

In spite of the problems that Ukraine faces regarding the modernization of its missile production technology, it is likely to continue exporting significant quantities of its existing systems over the short-term. This is particularly the case concerning the Zenit. [35] In 2004, the Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh national space agencies began collaborations on a project to build the Baiterek launch facility at Kazakhstan's Baikonur space center. [36] The launch facility was originally designed for Russian-build Angara rockets, but in 2013, agreements were reached to convert Baiterek into a launch pad for Ukrainian-built Zenit rockets. The future of trilateral collaboration on the project is ambiguous owing to the crisis in Ukraine. [37] As a result of the Ministry of Defense's 2008 'White Book' specified defense contractors were able to receive licenses to modernize the S-300 and Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile complexes. [38] The highest levels of Ukraine's government are committed to maintaining Kyiv's expertise in the area of missile technology.

In addition to modernizing existing missile production, Ukrainian officials have also expressed interest in developing indigenous tactical weapons. At a press conference in April 2009, former President Yushchenko stated that he believed Ukraine would be producing its own tactical weapons in two or three years, otherwise "if Ukraine thoughtlessly approaches the restoration of its own missile potential, it will cease to exist as a missile state in five or six years.” [39] Despite several attempts to develop new tactical ballistic missile systems in the years since that announcement, no new system has been successfully designed or delivered. [40]

The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which intensified following the annexation of Crimea in May 2014, has strained the traditionally collaborative nature of Russian and Ukrainian defense development. However, it has also highlighted Russia's role as a supplier of military equipment to the former Soviet republic. On July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Torez in the Donetsk Oblast' of Ukraine with a Soviet- and Russian-developed Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system. The incident resulted in the death of 298 passengers and 15 crew members. [41] American intelligence reports suggest that Russia supplied pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists in the region with several Buk-M1 missile systems, and that one of these was used to shoot down Flight MH17. [42] Russian leadership has denied any involvement in the incident. [43]

[1] Yuri Dubinin, "Ukraine's Nuclear Ambitions: Reminiscences of the Past," Russia in Global Affairs, April 13, 2004,
[2] "The Treaty Between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms and Associated Documents," Department of State,
[3] Pavel Podvig (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 150-167.
[4] "Ukrainian Space Activities and Industries," International Cooperation in Space,
[5] Jonathan P. Sunray, Lt Col, "Ukrainian Missile Nonproliferation: the Challenge for the United States' Policy of Engagement," Air War College, Air University, April 1998.
[6] David Hoffman, The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy (New York: Doubleday, 2009), pp. 439-458.
[7] Pavel Podvig (ed.), Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2004), pp. 150-167.
[8] Interfax; in "Government Has Right to Build Missiles 'if Threatened,'" FBIS-TAC-97-169, June 18, 1997.
[9] Nikolai Sokov, "Ukrainian defense minister says his country will not acquire nuclear weapons; announces new missile program," WMD Insights, April 2006,
[10] Doug Messier. "Will Ukrainian Rockets Fly from Florida?" Parabolic Arc, May 27, 2011,
[11] "Moscow Moves Production of Rocket Fuel Tanks Out of Ukraine," The Moscow Times, August 26, 2014,
[12] "Ukrainskie predpriatiia razoriaiutsiia: net zakazov Rossii," Pravda, October 14, 2014,
[13] "Iuzhmash prosit vlkiuchit predpreiyatie v programmy NASA," Novosti VPK, September 28, 2014,
[14] Jonathan Amos, "Sea Launch Rocket Company Returns to Service," BBC News, September 24, 2011,
[15] "Russia to Decide on Future of Sea Launch Project by End of 2014" RIA Novosti, August 7, 2014,
[16] ISC Komotras,
[17] "Dnepr Program," ISC Kosmotras,
[18] Interfax; in "Ukraine, Brazil launch construction of new booster rocket," FBIS Document CEP20020724000277, July 24, 2002.
[19] Amy Svitak, "Ukraine, Brazil Prepare for 2015 Cyclone 4 Launch," Aviation Week, September 24, 2013,
[20] Doug Messier. "Cyclone-4 Development Not Affected by Ukraine Turmoil," Parabolic Arc, April 17, 2014,; "Azovmash’ izgotovil ryad oborudovaniya dlya brazil’skogo kosmodroma" Azovmash, April 19, 2014,
[21] "PRESS: Ukrainian Defense Ministry freezes development of Sapsan missile system," Interfax-Ukraine, June 24, 2013,
[22] "PRESS: Ukrainian Defense Ministry freezes development of Sapsan missile system," Interfax-Ukraine, June 24, 2013,
[23] "Ukraine and Belarus develop military-technical cooperation," Ukrinform, February 14, 2014.
[24] "Need for Ukraine to create own 'non-nuclear' deterrence weapons requires discussion by professionals," Kyiv Post, June 12, 2014,
[25] Interfax; in "Russia, Ukraine to expand cooperation in aerospace field," FBIS Document CEP20010212000161, February 12, 2001.
[26] "Vozobnovleniye proizvodstva boyevykh raket v Dnepropetrovske vozmozhno, no potrebuyet ochen bolshikh sredstv," [Resumption of combat missile production in Dnepropetrovsk possible, but will require a lot of money], UNIAN, No. 006 (146), February 5-11, 2001.
[27] "Putin signs into law ratification of Russian-Ukrainian treaty extending use of 15P118M missile system," Interfax, February 12, 2008, OSC Document CEP20080212950129.
[28] "Russia not to break mil tech ties with Ukraine at once," ITAR-TASS, February 27, 2009, OSC Document CEP20090227950029.
[29] "Russia to Substitute 95% of Ukrainian Defense Imports," RIA Novosti, June 24, 2014,
[30] Vladimir Mukhin. "’Satana’ posluzhit Rossii esche pyat’ let," Nezavisimaya gazeta, June 23, 2014,
[31] "Russia Brainstorms Strategy to Replace Banned Western Defense Imports," The Moscow Times, August 14, 2014,
[32] Michael Birnbaum, "Ukraine factories equip Russian military despite support for rebels," The Washington Post, August 15, 2014,
[33] "Ukraine Calls for Japan Cash for Space Industry," Reuters, May 20, 1997,
[34] "SShA i Ukraina mogut sotrudnichat v sfere protivoraketnoy oborony - posol," [The U.S.A. and Ukraine might collaborate in the sphere of antimissile defense – ambassador], Interfax, April 11, 2002,
[35] "Mixed prospects for Ukraine's arms exports, defense expert claims," Kiev Defense-Express, February 19, 2009, OSC Document CEP20090220950168.
[36] "Kazakhstan Says Russia Foot-Dragging on Baiterek Space Launch Facility," The Moscow Times, February 7, 2014,
[37] "Kazakhstan Urges Talks with Russia, Ukraine for Launch Pad Project," RIA Novosti, May 5, 2014.
[38] White Book 2008: Defence Policy of Ukraine, Ministry of Defence of Ukraine, 2008, p. 33.
[39] "Ukraine to start producing own tactical missiles in 2-3 years," Interfax, April 6, 2009, OSC Document CEP20090406964036.
[40] "Armament of Ukrainian Armed Forces," Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, Retrieved on March 12, 2014,
[41] "What is a Buk Missile? At a Glance," The Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2014.
[42] Margaret Coker, Adam Entous, Robert Wall. "US Points to Russian Missile Connection in Malaysia Airlines Crash," The Wall Street Journal, July 19, 2014,
[43] "What is a Buk Missile? At a Glance," The Wall Street Journal, July 20, 2014.

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

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury 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. Copyright 2016.