Former US Ambassador to Ukraine William Green Miller, senior advisor to Search for Common Ground’s US-Iran program and a senior public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

March 4, 2014

When I was sent to Kyiv as ambassador in 1993, the first priority given to me by President Clinton was to persuade the government of the newly independent Ukraine to give up its nuclear arsenal, the third largest concentration of strategic nuclear weapons in the world, largely aimed at the United States. 

Ukraine had already committed itself to become a non-nuclear weapons state in 1990, when the Ukrainian parliament adopted its Declaration of the Principles of State Sovereignty. In November of 1993, Ukraine’s parliament resolved that Ukraine would give up its nuclear arsenal provided that the United States and Russia, in turn, would protect Ukraine from any military, political, or economic threats to its sovereignty, to its territorial integrity, or to the well-being of its people. An agreement on these principles was signed in the Kremlin in Moscow on January 14, 1994 following a working negotiation.

I was present at the working sessions and the ceremony and dinner that followed in the Kremlin. The discussions were frank and far-ranging and considered carefully the possibility of threats to Ukrainian sovereignty. The Budapest Memorandum of December 5, 1994 further developed the principles of the Trilateral Agreement. Clearly, Ukraine was concerned, deeply worried, about a possible threat from Russia fueled by Russian nationalist extremists which, in fact, materialized almost immediately thereafter in Crimea. There were complicated disputes about the disposition of the Soviet Union’s Black Sea fleet and Soviet-era military bases that remained in Crimea. A puppet Independent Republic of Crimea was created with the active support of Moscow and behaved in a similar manner to what we are witnessing in Crimea today. 

In accord with the 1994 Trilateral Agreement and the subsequent Budapest Memorandum and Article 51 of the UN Charter, then-Presidents Clinton, Yeltsin, and Kuchma were able to work together to defuse the danger. The Independent Republic of Crimea dissolved, and its president and prime minister fled Ukraine. 

There is great danger that war could break out as a consequence of the invasion of Crimea and other Russian actions in Ukraine. President Obama, President Putin, and President Yatsenyuk should meet along with the heads of the signatory nations of the Trilateral Agreement and the Budapest Memorandum. They should meet in accord with Article 51 of the UN Charter and seek the help of the leaders of the UN and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to find ways, face to face, to remove the danger, keep the peace, and avert catastrophic war.