With Ukrainian Politicians Considering Proliferation, Blame the Weak West

by Alexander Sich

Yesterday, in a move largely unnoticed in the West, Yulia Tymoshenko’s “Fatherland” and Vitaliy Klitschko’s “Strike” political parties jointly introduced a draft law (0076) in the Ukrainian Parliament to denounce the country’s 1994 accession to the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), with the goal of withdrawing from the treaty. That same day, member of parliament Oleh Lyashko of the “Radical Democratic” party demanded Ukraine regain its status as a nuclear-weapons state. Today, Lyashko introduced a draft law (4518) regarding Ukraine’s entry into NATO and the EU.

While today’s resolution is a positive development if conditions and obligations are met, withdrawing from the NPT is certainly not. As I explained in my piece on the homepage today, becoming a nuclear-weapons state is neither feasible for Ukraine nor in her political or economic interests. Perhaps the draft law is Ukraine’s attempt to push the West to help it more. But if so, it’s a dangerous game: For, among other reasons, Russia may see this as legitimizing its alleged security concerns.

Moreover, if the NPT unravels, not only is there a potential for a renewed nuclear-arms race, but related agreements may fall as well — the Convention on Nuclear Safety, the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material, the Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, and the Joint Convention on the Safety of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Water Management.

Yesterday, partly in an irresponsible response to targeted and largely ineffectual western sanctions, Russia raised the stakes significantly by threatening to alter its position regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

If one follows the money, Russia’s nuclear brinksmanship should have been anticipated. Russia is ever eager to sell nuclear reactors abroad. When Iran’s Russian-designed and -built Bushehr reactor was first connected to the grid at the beginning of September 2011, Russia began to push for a revival of talks between the West and Iran regarding its uranium-enrichment facilities. Russia is also eager to sell Iran its own fuel to power Bushehr, and any future reactors designed and constructed by Russia will burn their fuel — indigenous Iranian enrichment and fabrication capacity would cut into a lucrative nuclear-fuel supply contract. Yet true to form and likely in anticipation of altering its position on talks with Iran, last week Russia entered into an agreement with Iran to build two additional reactors.

The situation is even more interesting if one considers the fact that Iran has never signed onto the NPT nor any of the above-noted conventions . . . and is the only country operating a nuclear reactor that hasn’t signed onto these agreements. Is it too provocative to ask why Russia hasn’t used its friendly relations with Iran to push it to join these international nuclear-safety conventions?

It’s the Russian Federation (read: Putin) that is responsible for the increasingly-unstable situation in that theater with its brazen aggression toward Ukraine — now seemingly pushing Ukraine to seriously consider withdrawal from the NPT. But the West, and in particular President Obama, must take responsibility for enabling, with the West’s complacency, Putin to smirk at the West while pursuing its revanchist policies against countries considered its “near abroad” and by pursuing dangerous nuclear economic interests through the unraveling of important international nuclear-safety conventions.

— Alexander Sich is associate professor of physics and faculty associate with the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. He spent twelve years in Ukraine conducting research on the Chernobyl accident, followed by nuclear safety and non-proliferation work.

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