Scroll back twenty years and Ukraine—thanks, mainly, to the Soviet strategic missiles located on its territory—was, theoretically at least, a very major nuclear power indeed. Those nukes were eventually negotiated away in a process that included the signing of the Budapest Memorandum in 1994.
According to the agreement, the US, UK and Russia all agreed to protect the sovereignty and “territorial agreement” of Ukraine, meaning any Russian support for an attempt to declare Crimean independence would be in violation of their international obligations. The three powers committed to “respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine” and “refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine”. Significantly, the wording suggests Russia’s insistence that Ukraine forgo an EU trade deal may have already breached the terms of the agreement.The signatories agreed to “refrain from economic coercion designed to subordinate to their own interest the exercise by Ukraine of the rights inherent in its sovereignty and thus to secure advantages of any kind”. Western diplomats are now scouring the text to check whether they are obliged to intervene in the country to prevent it from breaking up if Russia does so first.
“Obliged”, no, and, regardless of other steps that can be taken, military intervention is, for any number of reasons, obviously out of the question. Nevertheless, as worthwhile as removing nuclear weapons from Ukraine undoubtedly was, Washington and London may just have been given a useful lesson on the limits of ‘soft power’.
And while on that subject, note this from Stars and Stripes:
Among NATO’s European members, only Estonia, Greece and Britain spent more than the alliance’s target sum of 2 percent of gross domestic product on their armed forces last year. The U.S. dedicated 4.1 percent of its GDP to defense, or $735 billion, according to the NATO data.