Could Ukraine Have Retained Soviet Nuclear Weapons?

This issue keeps coming up, now in the New York Times.

“If only Ukraine hadn’t give up its nuclear arsenal, Russia wouldn’t be able to bully it.” No.

There’s no way Ukraine could have kept the Soviet nuclear weapons stationed there when the Soviet Union ended. Some of us say it over and over and over again. I wrote a Twitter thread on it a few weeks ago, but I need a convenient piece to refer to, so here we go.

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The Biggest Bomb

Popular movements in the late 1950s pressed toward the Limited Test-Ban Treaty (LTBT), signed in 1963, which prohibited atmospheric testing. It was preceded by a voluntary test moratorium by the United States and the Soviet Union from 1958 through 1961. At the time, the development of nuclear weapons – and other things like a nuclear-powered airplane – was wild and woolly.

One of the points of competition was the size of explosion that a nuclear weapon could produce. This was a somewhat silly competition, because the amount of damage a bomb could wreak increases with the cube root of its energy. So ten 10-megaton (MT; that’s millions of tons of TNT equivalent) weapons would be much more damaging than one 100-MT weapon. But for some, size does matter.

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Kazakhstan Cleans Up

In the 1990s, the United States and other countries helped the newly independent states that had been part of the Soviet Union to deal with their nuclear weapons and materials. It’s a story that has been almost completely forgotten, but it contains a number of lessons that might be helpful today.

David Frum reminds us of that effort. I was involved in it. A few additional thoughts.

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Moving Into The New Year With Molotov and Ribbentrop


In 1939, the Soviet Union formally allied with Nazi Germany and agreed on how to split up the countries located between them. Immediately after, Germany invaded Poland. It is generally thought to be the beginning of World War II. Russia did not acknowledge the existence of the secret protocol on dividing Europe until 1989.

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Cartoon by David Low in the Evening Standard depicting Hitler greeting Stalin after the invasion of Poland, 

But that is not what Vladimir Putin wants you to believe. No, it was dastardly France, United Kingdom, the United States, and others who joined up with Hitler first at Munich, leaving the poor Soviet Union with no choice! Putin has mentioned this in several speeches, and in the last several weeks, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has joined in.

And they’re dissing diplomats who disagree with them.

The nations Russia has accused of starting World War II are pushing back.

Even Germany…

And, of course, a lot more from amateur and professional historians on Twitter. If you ever wanted to learn more about the beginnings of World War II, this is your big chance.

It’s hard to know what is motivating this propaganda storm from Russia. Here’s a person I trust.

That’s a little unclear, but I think the second sentence is intended to say that when Russia wants to use WW2 to gain friends, it usually talks about its sacrifices rather than the war’s origins.

There is speculation, as you see in the Dalsjö tweet, that it’s in preparation for some sort of military action from Russia. I tend to doubt that – Russia doesn’t need that kind of trouble right now. OTOH, Putin has been feeling cocky about his new weapons designed to deter the United States.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

The End Of The INF Treaty

A commenter at Balloon Juice asked if I plan to write on the end of the INF Treaty. I hadn’t intended to – there’s an enormous amount of good commentary (Twitter threads here and here) on it – but as I thought about it, I have some thoughts beyond the standard commentary.

First, an overview of the situation.

The Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was concluded between the US and the USSR in 1987. Both countries had been emplacing missiles in Europe in such a way as to dangerously shorten the warning time for a nuclear attack on Europe or Moscow. The treaty banned a whole class of missiles and largely ended the nuclear terrors of the early 1980s. Read More

Hello, World! Russia Here!

The Russian destroyer Udaloy I forced the USS Chancellorsville to maneuver to avoid collision in the Phillippine Sea today. They were sending a message – look at the guys sunbathing on the flight deck.

The maneuver was planned and approved by the fleet. Probably at the suggestion of Vladimir Putin, or certainly to please him. Read More

The Trump Narrative

I think that one reason people have taken up the Steele dossier as a key to Donald Trump’s election wrongdoing is that it is a relatively compact telling of events, from which a narrative may be extracted.

Most of the news coverage is of one small piece of the story at a time. The format of the articles tends to be a general statement of that small piece, perhaps with a bit of background, then a more detailed explanation of the small piece, and then more background. Space is limited, and the story is big. The cast appears to include thousands.

I find those articles largely unreadable and uninformative. Journalists seem to be having trouble too. Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of AP, said the Trump-Russia probes have “gone on so long that it’s difficult to be able to assess what in this investigation is truly very serious and what is not as serious. So that is one thing that journalists struggle with a little bit…” (video here; quote begins at 4:30) That certainly could be one reason that their articles are unreadable.

We need an overall story into which we can fit the breaking news. That will help us figure out what is truly very serious. Elliott Broidy, as far as we know now, is not as important to the story as Erik Prince, who is not as important as Donald Trump Jr. A master narrative can show where characters and subplots fit. Then the subplots can be written separately, noting the connections.

So I’m going to stick my neck out and provide a narrative. It is a bare-bones framework on which we can hang the many subplots and add in facts as they emerge. I’ve also added questions that need to be answered. I suspect that Robert Mueller has answers to some of those questions.

I invite you to suggest subplots. I’ll add them to my list and perhaps write another post in which I try to incorporate them into the narrative.

The narrative is below the fold. Read More

Soviet Days Of August

There is a cluster of days, starting with today, in 1991 and before which were fateful for the Soviet Union.

August 23, 1939: Foreign Ministers Vyacheslav Molotov (Soviet Union) and Joachim von Ribbentrop (Germany) signed an agreement not to go to war against each other. It included a secret protocol in which the two countries divided up the territories between them: Finland, Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. Germany invaded Poland in September, and the Soviet Union invaded Finland in November. That was the start of World War II. The Soviet Union took the Baltic states in June 1940, but a year later, Germany invaded them. In 1944, the Soviets returned to drive the Germans out.

August 23, 1989: People in the Baltic states, now republics of the Soviet Union, formed a chain, holding hands from Tallinn to Vilnius to protest the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. At that time, the Soviet Union refused to recognize that the secret protocol to the pact existed. Although the Baltic states were under Soviet rule, most other nations did not recognize this and dealt with Baltic governments in exile. This is the situation now with the Russian occupation of Crimea. Mikhail Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and there was unrest across the Soviet Union and its satellites. In October, Gorbachev gave the satellite countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany) autonomy from Soviet Communist rule.

August 19, 1991: Soviet military personnel stage a coup against Gorbachev. Lithuania had declared independence in March 1990, and several other Soviet republics were moving toward independence. Gorbachev was considering liberalizing the Soviet constitution to allow more freedom to the republics. The coup plotters felt that Gorbachev was betraying the Soviet Union. Gorbachev was weakened, and Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, strengthened himself politically by standing against the plotters. The coup failed, but it assured the end of the Soviet Union. Over the next several days, Latvia, Estonia, and most of the other republics declared independence. (New York Times, BBC, Association for Diplomatic Studies) Through the next months, other republics declared independence, and finally, on December 25, the Soviet Union was formally dissolved.

 

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.

 

 

Links – April 27, 2018

Photo from Al Jazeera’s timeline of the Korean Summit. Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands across the border.

Trump needs to pare back his goals for his meeting with Kim Jong UnSuspicious factory underscores challenge of verifying North Korea’s nuclear promises. Nothing that Trump has said indicates that he has any concept of verification. What to do if the talks with North Korea succeed: Develop a program like the Nunn-Lugar program for Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Since Siegfried Hecker was instrumental in the program with Russia, I’ve always thought that North Korea’s invitation to him to visit in 2004 was an attempt at building such a program. From 2017, on how to deter North Korea. Read More