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Radoslaw Sikorski wants West to provide Ukraine with nukes

Talk about injecting atomic weapons into the Russia-Ukraine conflict is irresponsible

Former Polish foreign minister and current European Parliament member Radoslaw Sikorski has suggested that the West should provide Ukraine with nukes in order to “defend its independence.”

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Sikorski’s reasoning was grounded in a fundamentally flawed understanding of the 1994 Budapest memorandum (which sealed Ukraine’s accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) – Ukraine did not lose security when it gave up its Soviet-era stockpile of nuclear weapons. Had Kiev opted to retain these weapons, it would have been treated by the international community as a pariah state whose viability would have been fatally undercut through missing out on the economic opportunity afforded by its agreeing to be rid of its inherited nuclear arsenal.

Ukraine’s security was enhanced by surrendering these nuclear weapons, since in doing so the door was opened for better relations with the West. Of course, Ukraine’s unfortunate history shows that this opportunity was squandered, given that Russia’s ongoing military operation which triggered Sikorski’s words was prompted not by some perceived Ukrainian weakness derived from its nuclear-free status, but rather the irresponsible policies of successive governments since the 2014 Maidan coup – that toppled former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – which pursued the violent oppression of ethnic Russians in Donbass for eight years.

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Incidentally, Sikorski himself was one of the prime movers in destabilising Ukraine. Along with the equally US friendly former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, he helped formulate the EU’s Eastern partnership programme. This disastrous plan forced Kiev to choose between Brussels and Moscow. A situation which was clearly going to ignite the country’s delicate ethnic divides. 

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Sikorski’s fact-challenged narrative was matched by Vyacheslav Volodin, the Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation. While justifiably angered by Sikorski’s dangerous remarks, Volodin said they amounted to “instigating a nuclear conflict in the center of Europe,” declaring that “[Sikorski] does not think about the future of either Ukraine or Poland. If his proposals materialize, these countries will disappear, together with the whole of Europe.”

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Left unsaid (and likely unconsidered) by Volodin is the fact that Russia and the rest of the world would likely cease to exist as well, given the harsh truth that there is no such thing as a limited nuclear conflict and, once the nuclear Genie has been released from its bottle, it won’t rest until all of humanity is destroyed. There was a reason, in January 2022, Russia pushed the five nuclear-armed permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to jointly publish a statement which, among other things, declared that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

That remains the truth, whatever Volodin says. Russian President Vladimir Putin understands that, having famously quipped during an October 2018 session of the Valdai Club that “Any [nuclear] aggressor should know that retribution will be inevitable, and he will be destroyed. And since we will be the victims of his aggression, we will be going to heaven as martyrs. They will simply drop dead, won’t even have time to repent.” Which is why such an outcome should not be postulated, even if issuing what amounts to little more than an idle threat.

The Sikorski-Volodin exchange isn’t the first time officials from opposite ends of the spectrum raised the specter of nuclear weapons in the context of Russia’s ongoing military operation in Ukraine. Following a visit to Ukraine in April 2022, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declared that “Nations from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression,” adding “Ukraine clearly believes that it can win, and so does everyone here.”

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Austin went on to articulate as official US policy a hope that the Ukraine conflict would produce a “weakened” Russia incapable of carrying out similar attacks on in the future.

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