Praise be to Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk: There are no nuclear weapons in Ukraine!
When the Soviet Union fell apart, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan became de facto nuclear states. Ukraine had the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world with about 5,000 nuclear charges, more than the UK, France, and China put together. The situation was dangerous. Russia, the USA, and Europe all had a strong interest in stopping the proliferation.
It was not a given that the plan to remove nuclear weapons from these three member states of the former Soviet Union would work.
Kazakhstan was the easiest case: Hundreds of thousands of people in that country had been subject to the radiation from the USSR nuclear tests. Get rid of the Russian bombs!
In Belarus the opinion for removal of the nukes was weaker, but finally prevailed.
In Ukraine there was a “nuclear allergy” caused by the Chernobyl disaster. Remove the nukes! However, Prime Minister Leonid Kuchma argued strongly that Ukraine should keep at least a part of the nuclear arsenal. He was overruled by the parliament and the president.
The USA, Russia, and several other countries cooperated in transporting the nukes to Russia. The US paid a substantial amount for the removal of the nukes.
The three presidents Bill Clinton, Leonid Kravchuk and Boris Yeltsin deserve our sincere gratitude for rapid and decisive action.
If Ukraine had been a nuclear weapon state today, how would the military and political balance be different? Not much. If Russia took control over Crimea, Ukraine might have threatened to use their atomic bombs, but in reality the threat would have been empty. No responsible politician, not even Mr. Yanukovich, would go to nuclear war for a province. And today, when the country does not have any nuclear weapons Russia will not take over Ukraine. The cost would be far too high. The trade with Europe, which receives 50% of the Russian export, would suffer badly. And Russia would have the threat of rebellion and terrorism.
But the stakes would be much higher, the threat to use nukes would probably be made, loudly and agressively, and great wars can be started by mistakes. The possession of nuclear weapon in itself would give Ukraine a feeling of power, which would increase tension. It is possible that irresponsible hotheads in a chaotic situation would take control over and use nuclear weapons, and we can not predict how that would end.
So thank you, Clinton, Yeltsin and Kravchuk!