Bill Clinton reveals regret over Russia-Ukraine deal that saw Kyiv give up nuclear weapons

Former President Bill Clinton has revealed misgivings over his role in pressing Ukraine to accept nuclear disarmament during his presidency in 1994.

Mr Clinton spoke to Irish news service RTÉ on Tuesday, and said he felt a “personal stake” in Ukraine’s fate as it struggles to fend off an invasion from Russia under Vladimir Putin.

He revealed that he did not think Russia would have invaded Ukraine in 2014 and again in 2022 if Kyiv was still armed with nuclear weapons.

“I feel a personal stake because I got them [Ukraine] to agree to give up their nuclear weapons,” Mr Clinton said. “And none of them believe that Russia would have pulled this stunt if Ukraine still had their weapons.”

Mr Clinton was the US president during high-stakes negotiations in 1994, which included then-Russian and Ukrainian presidents Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk. The aims of the meeting were to remove the nuclear weapons stationed in Ukraine following the fall of the Soviet Union. It resulted in the Trilateral Statement, which in part traded Ukraine’s nuclear weapons for security assurances. Ukraine agreed to the disarmament in the Budapest Memorandum later that year.

The deal also included an agreement that Russia would respect Ukraine’s borders and right to self-rule, which Mr Clinton said he now felt was shortsighted, as Russia violated that agreement in 2014 and again in its most recent invasion.

“I knew that President Putin did not support the agreement President Yeltsin made never to interfere with Ukraine’s territorial boundaries — an agreement he made because he wanted Ukraine to give up their nuclear weapons,” Mr Clinton said. “They were afraid to give them up because they thought that’s the only thing that protected them from an expansionist Russia.”

In February 2022, Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko told Fox News that the assurances Ukraine was given in 1994 over giving up its nuclear weapons were not honoured by the rest of the world.

Bill Clinton in Moscow in 1998


“Where are these guarantees? Now we are bombed and killed,” he said.

There has been some push-back against the idea that Ukraine would have been spared Russia’s invasion if it had retained its weapons after 1994.

Clara Guest, a research assistant in proliferation finance at King’s College London wrote in March 2022, just as the invasion was ramping up, that the nation would not have been able to maintain those weapons or manufacture new ones.

“Ukraine would never have been able to maintain its nuclear weapons and facilities or manufacture and produce new components,” she wrote, citing Ukraine’s lack of funds for such endeavours.

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