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Bill Clinton says he feels ‘terrible’ for pushing a 1994 agreement with Russia that resulted in Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons

boris yeltsin bill clintonBoris Yeltsin with Bill Clinton, 1998


  • Bill Clinton expressed regret for his role in a 1994 agreement between Russia, Ukraine and the US.
  • The agreement saw Ukraine give up nuclear weapons left over from the fall of the Soviet Union.
  • Clinton said that if Ukraine still had the weapons, Russia would not have invaded.

Former US President Bill Clinton said that he regrets pressuring Ukraine to give up its nuclear warheads in a high-stakes negotiation in 1994. 

In an interview with Irish news service RTÉ released on Tuesday, Clinton said that he felt a “personal stake” in Ukraine’s fragile territorial integrity. He said he believed that Russia would not have invaded Ukraine in 2014, and in 2022, had the weapons still been in the country — a position that a Soviet historian echoed to Insider.

“I feel a personal stake because I got them [Ukraine] to agree to give up their nuclear weapons,” Clinton said. “And none of them believe that Russia would have pulled this stunt if Ukraine still had their weapons.”

In 1994, the US helped broker the Budapest Memorandum, with former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, and former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk, with the intention of getting rid of nuclear weapons that were still stationed on Ukraine’s territory after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The US also negotiated agreements for Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and borders, which Clinton said was also shortsighted. Specifically, in 2014, Russia violated its promise that it would not challenge Ukraine’s borders after the invasion of Crimea.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in 1994, Clinton eventually offered Kravchuk $700 million and “strong security assurances” for the disarmament of the nuclear weapons.

“I knew that President Putin did not support the agreement President Yeltsin made never to interfere with Ukraine’s territorial boundaries — an agreement he made because he wanted Ukraine to give up their nuclear weapons,” Clinton said in the interview. “They were afraid to give them up because they thought that’s the only thing that protected them from an expansionist Russia.”

Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, told Insider that without the deal, Russia would have thought twice about invading Ukraine in 2014, and in 2022.

A nuclear-armed Ukraine would enjoy high confidence of territorial integrity,” Miles told Insider. “We would not see this invasion, in all likelihood.”

He added that thinking about an imminent Russian invasion was not the only US motivation, as US foreign policy became heavily centered around denuclearization more broadly.

“A great deal had to do with the risks of proliferation and the challenges of keeping nuclear weapons secure,” Miles said. “That was a big part of the US drive to denuclearize: countries like Ukraine and Kazakhstan had a lot on their plate, and nuclear weapons are expensive.”

According to WSJ, after the 1994 deal was signed, Kravchuk said that, “if tomorrow Russia goes into Crimea, no one will raise an eyebrow.”

Clinton acknowledged that Putin had foresight into how Ukraine was weakened, plotting his first opportunity to invade Crimea in 2014.

“When it became convenient to him, President Putin broke it and first took Crimea,” Clinton said in the interview, referring to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. “And I feel terrible about it because Ukraine is a very important country.”

Read the original article on Business Insider
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