Just the idea that a country has nuclear weapons — and is willing to use them — is a strong statement of defense. It’s a big reason why the U.S. and the USSR were considered so powerful and seen as nations not to be trifled with for so long, because they could theoretically atomically annihilate anyone who crossed them, including each other. There isn’t anything that really trumps nuclear weapons, so why did Ukraine give up the guarantees of national protection that come with atomic ownership? It’s because in the wake of the Cold War’s end, and the tremendous relief it brought when nuclear armageddon had been seemingly avoided, former Soviet republics willingly denuclearized in favor of a less lethal, less heated approach to national security.
In 1994, Ukraine’s highest governmental officials, according to NPR, signed the Budapest Memorandum. The United States and the United Kingdom, also agreed to the document, pledging security, in the form of military and other forms of stiff protection, to Ukraine. In other words, by giving up its nuclear weapons, Ukraine got a guarantee from the mighty U.S. and U.K. that they’d be protected by any outside threat.
However, and this is where things get tricky, another country also signed the Budapest Memorandum: Russia. The country that swore to protect Ukraine is the same one that invaded it in early 2022.