Budapest Memorandum’s Failure Makes Nuclear War Likely If Russia Disintegrates – OpEd


“The threat of the disintegration of Russia is one of the most serious threats which exists today,” Mikhail Khodorkovsky says, because after Ukraine, only a fool will say that any future Budapest Protocol will defend anyone more effectively than hundreds of nuclear warheads.”

And that means, the leader of the Russian democratic opposition in emigration, that conflicts among the successor states would “with a high degree of probability” grow into wars in which “weapons of mass destruction would be used and there would be millions of victims” (

As Putin’s war in Ukraine has ground on, few talk about the 1994 Budapest Memorandum in which the US, the UK and the Russian Federation committed themselves to defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv’s giving up the nuclear weapons on its territory.

Khodorkovsky’s reference is thus important for at least three reasons. First, it shows that the failure of the three powers or even the two Western ones that have not invaded Ukraine to defend the provisions of an accord means that they no longer have the ability to control the situation in the future because they won’t be believed.

Second, it helps to explain why Khodorkovsky is so opposed to any consideration of the right of non-Russian and regional groups to pursue independence. He clearly sees that such moves could lead to a disaster even greater than the current fiasco that Putin has visited upon Russia, Ukraine and the world.

And third, it means that he has not found a way forward out of the conundrum that a liberal Russia which shed its remaining colonial possessions might have a chance to become a democracy but one that insists on retaining them will be anything but democratic at home or committed to a peaceful international order abroad.

Khodorkovsky like Putin appears to believe that no countries that might emerge on the territory of the current Russian Federation could reach agreements that would allow them to live in peace and that only outside powers could do so but now lack what had appeared to be one of the most important means.

That in turn helps to explain the deepening divide between Russian liberals like himself and both Russian regionalists and non-Russian activists, but most important, it highlights why any failure of the US and the UK – and indeed, the West more generally – to help Ukraine defeat Russia will only compound the problems of what is likely to be a post-Russian future.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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