The crisis in Eastern Europe has prompted many comparisons by U.S. lawmakers to the Cold War. But the latest mention comes from an ocean away, from Ukraine itself, and it resurrects a focal point of that conflict: nuclear weapons.
Oleksandr Turchynov, the acting president of Ukraine, took to the pages of The New York Times on Wednesday to warn Russia that using force in Crimea could backfire.
“Ukraine and Russia are two sovereign states, and the Ukrainian people will determine their path independently,” Turchynov wrote. “The refusal to accept this fact will lead, at the very least, to a new Cold War.”
In 1994, Ukraine surrendered its entire nuclear-weapons stockpile — the third largest in the world at the time — in exchange for security assurances from the United States, Britain, and Russia. The agreement called for the three nations to respect Ukraine’s independence and territorial integrity, and prohibited them from the use or threat of force against the country.
“If this agreement is violated, it may lead to nuclear proliferation around the world,” Turchynov said.
“An escalation of conflict would be catastrophic for the whole of Western Europe,” he continued. “It would put an end to the global security system, breaching its very foundation. These are very real risks.”
Pavlo Rizanenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, told USA Today on Tuesday that Ukraine may have to arm itself with nuclear weapons if the U.S. and other world powers don’t hold up their end of the bargain. “We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement,” he said. “Now there’s a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake.”
On Friday, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin defended Russia’s actions in Ukraine. However, he said he hoped a new Cold War would not break out, despite “extremely deep disagreements of a conceptual nature between Russia and the European Union and the United States.”
In his Wednesday op-ed, Turchynov said Ukraine is open to “constructive dialogue” with Russia. “Russia must choose how it will respond,” he said. This sentiment illustrates the nature of the current standoff between Ukraine and Russia. Each side is antagonizing the other — Russia by sending increasing numbers of troops in Crimea, Ukraine by siding with the West — but neither will shoot first.