Ukraine & Nukes

After a New York Times reporter grossly distorted what Putin and Zelensky have said and done about nuclear weapons, Steven Starr corrects the record and deplores Western media, in general, for misinforming  and leading the entire world in a dangerous direction.

U.S. troops arrive at Nuremberg International Airport on Feb. 28 to join the NATO Response Force. which was activated for the first time in history in a collective defence context. (NATO)

By Steven Starr
Special to Consortium News

The New York Times recently published an article by David Sanger entitled “Putin spins a conspiracy theory that Ukraine is on a path to produce nuclear weapons.”  Unfortunately, it is Sanger who puts so much spin in his reporting that he leaves his readers with a grossly distorted version of the what the presidents of Russia and Ukraine have said and done.

Ukrainian Volodymyr  Zelensky’s recent statements at the Munich conference centered around the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which welcomed Ukraine’s accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in conjunction with Ukraine’s decision to return to Russia the nuclear weapons left on its territory by the Soviet Union.

In other words, the Budapest Memorandum was expressly about Ukraine giving up its nukes and not becoming a nuclear weapon state in the future. Zelensky’s speech at Munich made it clear that Ukraine was moving to repudiate the Budapest Memorandum; Zelensky essentially stated that Ukraine must be made a member of NATO, otherwise it would acquire nuclear weapons.  

This is what Zelensky said, with emphasis added: 

“I want to believe that the North Atlantic Treaty and Article 5 will be more effective than the Budapest Memorandum.

Ukraine has received security guarantees for abandoning the world’s third nuclear capability [i.e. Ukraine relinquished the Soviet nuclear weapons that had been placed in Ukraine during the Cold War]. We don’t have that weapon. … Therefore, we have something. The right to demand a shift from a policy of appeasement to ensuring security and peace guarantees. 

Since 2014, Ukraine has tried three times to convene consultations with the guarantor states of the Budapest Memorandum. Three times without success. . . I am initiating consultations in the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was commissioned to convene them. If they do not happen again or their results do not guarantee security for our country, Ukraine will have every right to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt. . . 

I am initiating consultations in the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was commissioned to convene them. If they do not happen again or their results do not guarantee security for our country, Ukraine will have every right to believe that the Budapest Memorandum is not working and all the package decisions of 1994 are in doubt.”

Sanger’s Times article implies that it was a “conspiracy theory” that Zelensky was calling for Ukraine to acquire nuclear weapons. Sanger was not ignorant of the meaning of the Budapest Memorandum, rather he chose to deliberately ignore it and misrepresented the facts. 

President Vladimir Putin, along with the majority of Russians, could not ignore such a threat for a number of historical reasons that The New York Times and ideologues such as Sanger have also chosen to ignore. It is important to list some of those facts, since most Americans are unaware of them, as they have not been reported in the Western mainstream media. Leaving parts of the story out turns Putin into just a madman bent on conquest without any reason to intervene.

First, both the provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk in the Donbass region voted for independence from Ukraine in 2014 in resistance to a U.S.-backed coup that overthrew the elected president Viktor Yanukovych in February of that year. The independence vote came just eight days after neo-Nazis burned dozens of ethnic Russians alive in Odessa.  To crush their bid for independence, the new U.S.-installed Ukrainian government then launched an “anti-terrorist” war against the provinces, with the assistance of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which had taken part in the coup. It is a war that is still going on eight years later, a war that Russia has just entered. 

During these eight years, the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Azov have used artillery, snipers and assassination teams to systematically butcher more than 5,000 people (another 8,000 were wounded) — mostly civilians — in the Donetsk Peoples Republic, according to the leader of the DPR, who provided these figures in a press conference recently. In the Luhansk People’s Republic, an additional 2,000 civilians were killed and 3,365 injured. The total number of people killed and wounded in Donbass since 2014 is more than 18,000.

This has received at most superficial coverage by The New York Times; it has not been covered by Western corporate media because it does not fit the official Washington narrative that Ukraine is pursuing an “anti-terrorist operation” in its unrelenting attacks on the people of Donbass.  For eight years the war instead has been portrayed as a Russian “invasion,” well before Russia’s current intervention.

Likewise, The New York Times, in its overall coveragechose not to report that the Ukrainian forces had deployed half of its army, about 125,000 troops, to its border with Donbass by the beginning of 2022. 

The importance of neo-Nazi Right Sektor politicians in the Ukraine government and neo-Nazi militias (such as the Azov Battalion) to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, also goes unreported in the mainstream corporate media.  The Azov battalion flies Nazi flags; they have been trained by teams of U.S. military advisers and praised on Facebook these days. In 2014, Azov was incorporated in the Ukrainian National Guard under the direction of the Interior Ministry.

The Nazis killed something on the order of 27 million Soviets/Russians during World War II (the U.S. lost 404,000). Russia has not forgotten and is extremely sensitive to any threats and violence coming from neo-Nazis. Americans generally do not understand what this means to Russians as the United States has never been invaded.  

So, when the leader of Ukraine essentially threatens to obtain nuclear weapons, this is most certainly considered to be an existential threat to Russia. That is why Putin focused on this during his speech preceding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sanger and The New York Times must discount a Ukrainian nuclear threat; they can get away with doing so because they have systematically omitted news pertaining to this for many years.

Sanger makes a very misleading statement when he writes, “Today Ukraine does not even have the basic infrastructure to produce nuclear fuel.”

Ukraine is not interested in making nuclear fuel — which Ukraine already purchases from the U.S. Ukraine has plenty of plutonium, which is commonly used to make nuclear weapons today; eight years ago Ukraine held more than 50 tons of plutonium in its spent fuel assemblies stored at its many nuclear power plants (probably considerably more today, as the reactors have continued to run and produce spent fuel). Once plutonium is reprocessed/separated from spent nuclear fuel, it becomes weapons usable. Putin noted that Ukraine already has missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, and they certainly have scientists capable of developing reprocessing facilities and building nuclear weapons.

In his Feb. 21 televised address, Putin said Ukraine still has the infrastructure leftover from Soviet days to build a bomb. He said:

“As we know, it has already been stated today that Ukraine intends to create its own nuclear weapons, and this is not just bragging.

Ukraine has the nuclear technologies created back in the Soviet times and delivery vehicles for such weapons, including aircraft, as well as the Soviet-designed Tochka-U precision tactical missiles with a range of over 100 kilometers.

But they can do more; it is only a matter of time. They have had the groundwork for this since the Soviet era.

In other words, acquiring tactical nuclear weapons will be much easier for Ukraine than for some other states I am not going to mention here, which are conducting such research, especially if Kiev receives foreign technological support. We cannot rule this out either.

If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia. We cannot but react to this real danger, all the more so since let me repeat, Ukraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country.”

NATO-US Refuse Binding Nuclear Treaties

In his Times piece, Sanger states, “American officials have said repeatedly that they have no plans to place nuclear weapons in Ukraine.”

But the U.S. and NATO have refused to sign legally binding treaties with Russia to this effect. In reality, the U.S. has been making Ukraine a de facto member of NATO, while training and supplying its military forces and conducting joint exercises on Ukrainian territory. Why wouldn’t the U.S. place nuclear weapons in Ukraine — they have already done so at military bases within the borders of five other European members of NATO.  This in fact violates the spirit of the NPT, another issue that Sanger avoids when he notes that Russia has demanded that the U.S. remove nuclear weapons from the European NATO-member states.

For years the U.S. proclaimed that the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) facilities it was placing in Romania and Poland, on the Russian border, were to protect against an “Iranian threat,” even though Iran had no nuclear weapons or missiles that could reach the U.S. But the dual-use Mark 41 launching systems used in the Aegis Ashore BMD facilities can be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles, and will be fitted with SM-6 missiles that, if armed with nuclear warheads, could hit Moscow in five-to-six minutes. Putin explicitly warned journalists about this danger in 2016; Russia included the removal of the U.S. BMD facilities in Romania and Poland in its draft treaties presented to the U.S. and NATO last December. 

I wonder if Sanger has ever considered what the U.S. response would be if Russia placed missile launching facilities on the Canadian or Mexican border? Would the U.S. consider that a threat, would it demand that Russia remove them or else the U.S. would use military means to do so?

30 Years Ago 

Sanger states that today Russia takes a “starkly different from the tone Moscow was taking 30 years ago, when Russian nuclear scientists were being voluntarily retrained to use their skills for peaceful purposes.”

Russians would reply that 30 years ago NATO had not moved to Russian borders and was not flooding Ukraine with hundreds of tons of weapons and the U.S. had not yet overthrown the government in Kiev to install an anti-Russian regime.

While the Times is still considered the U.S. “paper of record,” during the last few decades it has devolved into the primary mouthpiece for the official narratives coming from Washington.

There is a real danger to the nation when a free press is replaced with corporate media that stifles and censors dissent. Rather than a free press, we now have a Ministry of Propaganda that acts as an echo chamber for the latest diktats from the White House. The systematic creation of false narratives by corporate media, designed to serve the purposes of the federal government, have so misinformed the American public about world events that we find the nation ready to go to war with Russia. 

This is suicidal course for not only the U.S. and the EU, but for civilization as a whole, because this would likely end in a nuclear war that will destroy all nations and peoples.  

Steven Starr is the former director of the University of Missouri’s Clinical Laboratory Science Program, and former board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  His articles have been published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Federation of American Scientists and the Strategic Arms Reduction website of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He maintains the Nuclear Famine website.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

23 comments for “Ukraine & Nukes

  1. Jesse Baker
    March 9, 2022 at 11:25

    Anyone here ever take a look at a kind of building at the Hanford reservation called a “canyon?” That’s where plutonium was extracted from the spent fuel, and each of them is 800 feet long. Ukraine isn’t going to be doing this, or any of the myriad other steps on the path to nuclear weapons, without the Russians knowing about it. The canyons are so intensely radioactive that the Department of Energy hasn’t dared demolish them yet; an entombment in place is what’s contemplated now. Whatever reasons Mr. Putin had for ordering the invasion, an independent Ukrainian arsenal wasn’t among them: Those who recall the Israeli raid on Osirak can tell you a few airstrikes are enough to eliminate a budding weapons industry if it’s not built deep underground at tremendous cost. As the US had distance and air defense to protect such facilities, we tend to forget that.

    The Budapest Memorandum itself is irrelevant as far as giving up the weapons goes. Soviet land-based warheads had permissive action links and booby traps that would have made recovering their physics packages, much less using them as-is, a remote prospect. Likely they offered only raw plutonium which would have had to be refined, machined and incorporated into new warheads by Ukraine’s then-cratered economy. Nuclear weapons require extensive maintenance in advanced factories for reliability as a deterrent.

    Iran is in fact pursuing an alternative, uranium enrichment with centrifuges, that occupies much less space as no reactors or special radiological hazards are involved, and leads to a simpler weapon, the gun-type bomb used at Hiroshima. But it’s a lot slower, and no easier to hide from foreign spies than reprocessing is. While David Sanger has his own political agendas, and nationalism has indeed come back into vogue at the NY Times, I’m finding it hard to view the American antiwar activists siding with Putin’s general staff to justify the mass shelling of cities in a full-scale conquest with anything but a jaundiced eye.

  2. March 9, 2022 at 00:36

    The united States of America was invaded once – in 1812 by the British. The US central government was totally inept at defending the capitol. The US Army had been effective only against Pennsylvania farmers during the Whiskey Rebellion to exact a federal tax on American corn farmers. The only battles won against the British were on the Great Lakes and the Battle of New Orleans. The Battle of New Orleans was the deciding battle of the War of 1812. It was won by squirrel hunters, frontiersmen. Fighting at their own expense, they decimated Wellington’s Army, the very army that had defeated Napoleon.

  3. James
    March 8, 2022 at 00:44

    The author of this piece laments that the Ukrainian president spoke about potentially obtaining nuclear weapons to protect Ukraine, stated that would be in contravention of the Budapest Memorandum, and said that Russia was correct to be unhappy as a result.

    However, the author appears to ignore (as far I could see) the fact that the Budapest Memorandum – of which Russia was a signatory – gave security assurances against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.

    Since at least 2014, Russia has repeatedly breached the Budapest Memorandum. Russia quite literally invaded Crimea, a significant, strategically significant portion of Ukraine, and provided military support and encouragement to pro-Russian groups in Donetsk and Lukhansk.

    Given that Ukraine’s much larger, powerful, nuclear-armed neighbour invaded part of its territory and encouraged other parts of its territory to secede, is it any wonder that Ukraine looked to protect itself, to try to prevent the rest of itself from being devoured?

    The point that appears to be ignored in all this is Ukraine’s right to self-determination. Everyone is writing about “NATO or the US should have done this or that” – but what about Ukraine? What if the majority of people in the Ukraine actually prefer to be closer to the EU than Russia? Should they simply be sacrificed on the altar of realpolitik??

  4. March 5, 2022 at 08:11

    A bit of context but it is probably worse as there are credible reports that the Ukraine was already working on reacquiring nuclear weapons, with the knowledge and assistance of the Biden administration, and is further along in terms of technical knowhow and capacity than Iran; hence, the importance for Russia of quickly capturing its nuclear facilities. War is never a positive solution but is sometimes the only viable option, due to machinations of reckless, feckless hypocrites.

  5. Vera Gottlieb
    March 5, 2022 at 04:56

    The US strongly believes it is there to ‘defend’ the entire globe. As I see it, its function seems to be more to start wars wherever natural resources are in ample supply: steal!

    • Citizen 2nd class
      March 5, 2022 at 14:37

      For the US, for capitalism, it is all just business. It did not matter what happened as a result of the illegal invasion of Iraq; that was all a boon for business. The US was not there to win a war, they were there to start a war, and to install American capitalist control. More chaos and destruction means more business and money for the capitalist class. For them there is no profit in peace. I think that all of the old bureaucrats and policy-makers, old spies, spooks, and espionage personnel really miss the old Cold War alignment. The situation now, of the US and its Pentagon, is like the fire brigade in “FAHRENHEIT 451”: its mission is to destroy, to start war, too offend; not defend. The US and its massive military, its policies, are to make the world safe not for democracy, but for US capitalist control of everything. Just look at what they have done to this country.

  6. March 4, 2022 at 23:51

    In 72+ years on this earth–43+ of them working in non-commercial radio–I have NEVER seen a more important article, presented at a time of extreme crisis.

    It would be impossible to exaggerate the significance of this story, nor to exaggerate the gratitude owed to Steven Starr, Joe Lauria and the staff of “Consortium News” for presenting it.

    Many, many thanks!

  7. robert e williamson jr
    March 4, 2022 at 18:23

    This tale has two sides one a legitimate rendering of facts seems to prove both Ukraine and Russia have solid rationals for protesting the status quo of relationships involving NATO, Ukraine AND Russia until February 24, 2022. I’m not sure Putin felt desperate, but he is clearly fed up with not being taken seriously.

    Maybe if the U.S. POTUS hadn’t went looking for trouble he wouldn’t have found it. This all could have beeb handled differently

    The communication here by Mr. Starr leaves little doubt of that.

    This article is a hit out of the park, informaitn much appreciated and needed by all.

    I sense Putin sent a message last evening by way his Army’s rather innocuous attack on the the nuke power station at Enerhordar. That is of course only true if the spent fuel and reactors were left undamaged by the attacks. The move on Chernobyl seemed to telegraph something was up I thought.

    Thank you Steve & the CN crew

    • Anna
      March 5, 2022 at 22:17

      There was no attack by Russians on the nuke power station in question. The power station has been taken over by Russian forces couple of days prior without a fight as the Ukraine forces simply left. The staff happily stayed providing the Russians with the documented proof of strange dealings at the station. To quote: “Thank God this nightmare is over!”
      On the night in question an unknown armed group had taken over an empty adjacent building and mounted an attack on the Russian guards eventually setting the building on fire and retreating.
      The Russians are taking the nuclear threat very seriously and are taking control of all the nuclear facilities. It appears that there is more to this story than meets the eye.

  8. March 4, 2022 at 16:30

    Is Monsanto/Bayer still leasing Ukraine land to grow their GM crops after the American public and farmers pushed them out of America.
    At the same time Bidens son was put in control of Fracking operation in North Ukraine just inside border with Russia.
    This was why Putin moved to protect their Navel Base in the Ukraine.
    America never tells the truth and keeps so many secrets

    • Paula
      March 6, 2022 at 17:29

      Margaret, is it really true the American public & farmers pushed Monsanto/Bayer out?When & how did that happen & how come I’ve never heard about it? I’m in France & I know France refuses their GMOs, but the US?

      • Tim Slater
        March 7, 2022 at 10:05

        It is not the GMO crops, but the specially-designed pesticied, RoundUp, that goes with them, that is in deep legal trouble in the USA.

  9. Taras77
    March 4, 2022 at 15:47

    Excellent article!

    The question in my mind is where is the responsibility for this gross misinformation or disinformation by the press, govt officials, pundits. It is just a game with sinister and evil motivations but no accountability.

    The game becomes: “can you top this” for extreme allegations and charges but the consequences of panic in the markets and hysteria within the populace are never addressed or considered.

    Indeed, that may be part or all of the motivation.

  10. alley cat
    March 4, 2022 at 15:46

    Brilliant dismantling of that faux journalist David Sanger, and by extension, the relentless, never-ending stream of war propaganda spewing from the newspaper of record. Real fake news. Not only because it’s ideologically- and agenda-driven, but also because much of it is knowingly, unrepentantly false. Propaganda, fake news, presstitution. What passes these days for journalism in our megacorporate press.

  11. rosemerry
    March 4, 2022 at 15:45

    How anyone can see and hear these speeches and even sample the thousands of hours of careful, reasonable, note-free, impassioned explanation of the situation Russia finds herself in must mean their mind is already made up to refuse all shifting of their ideas. Having no interest in or care about anyone designated to be an enemy, even with no motive for this, seems to be deeply embedded in the USA and the UK concerning Russia, long after the Cold War, which was mostly hyped up and surely was not at all justified after the USSR breakup. Thirty more years, with ridiculous excuses like Iranian nuclear attacks, and no progress has been made to accommodate Russia’s genuine fears, starkly in view now with the almost hysterical Russophobic rubbing of hands in glee at the thought of the destruction of Russia-economic, social, cultural, sporting, even natural eg Russian Blue cats.

  12. elkern
    March 4, 2022 at 15:23

    Thx; this really helps make sense of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from the high-level strategic framework down to several specific details of the attack.

    I had expected Russia to send troops into the Donbass region to support the separatists there, but I was really surprised at the attacks toward the major population centers (Kyiv, Kharkiv). Russia could not “win” any serious attack on the big cities, and they must know that (Stalingrad…), so there had to be some other objective(s).

    I originally bought the idea that Russia took the old Chernobyl site just because it was on the route from Byelorussia to Kyiv, but now I suspect that Chernobyl was a primary objective all along.

    Now Russia has captured “Europe’s largest nuclear power plant”, at Zaporizhzhia, and it looks like they have units headed NW from Kherson/Mykolaev toward the South Ukraine plant near Yuzhnoukrainsk. And there appears to be a column headed SW from Kharkiv toward the Dnieper river, which might be headed for the Dnipro Chemical Plant in Kamianske, where Ukraine enriches its uranium.

    If Russia finds clear evidence that Ukraine has started to enrich uranium (or plutonium?) to[ward] bomb-grade, it will be a game-changer.

  13. Mike Maddden
    March 4, 2022 at 15:08

    “There is a real danger to the nation when a free press is replaced with corporate media that stifles and censors dissent.”

    That’s what made Julian Assange so indispensable.

    Thank you Mr. Starr.

  14. D. Brand
    March 4, 2022 at 14:01

    “For years the U.S. proclaimed that the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) facilities it was placing in Romania and Poland, on the Russian border, were to protect against an “Iranian threat,” even though Iran had no nuclear weapons or missiles that could reach the U.S. But the dual-use Mark 41 launching systems used in the Aegis Ashore BMD facilities can be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles, and will be fitted with SM-6 missiles that, if armed with nuclear warheads, could hit Moscow in five-to-six minutes.”

    I think the narrative that the new BMD systems in Eastern Europe were to defend Europe against Iranian missiles was always flawed. I’m not a military expert but I thought the Russians objected to the stationing of these missiles in Eastern Europe because they could be used to intercept Russian ballistic missiles, thus, voiding the mutual deterrence at the expense of Russia. Is that not the case?

    • Ian Stevenson
      March 4, 2022 at 18:13

      I think you are right with the Iranian threat narrative and the Russia objection. I can see no reason why Iran would attack Europe. The Islamic terrorism in France, Belgium , UK etc was all Sunni. Iran is mainly Shi’ite.
      But I find the argument that the anti ballistic missiles negate the nuclear forces of Russia, rather dubious. We don’t know the real effectiveness of them but they don’t exist in enough numbers to stop the numbers they could deploy. Even if they only fired one or two as a demonstration of will, it can not be taken for granted they would be intercepted. How effective they might be against cruise missiles who fly low, if slower, is again only speculation for the layman.
      They do have sea launched ballistic and cruise missiles which can be fired from closer to Europe than the width of Ukraine. In the 1960s when I grew up in England, we were told we would have at least 4 minute warning. The Americans 15 minutes. The article quotes 6 minutes. How much time difference really matters when both sides have forces which are mobile, at sea or air launched. I have a feeling the position is more symbolic than of real meaning. Both sides have enough to get through where-ever they are based.
      Looking at the link, it shows there are no nuclear weapons based in the ‘new ‘ NATO states.
      An American friend of mine is quite sure that the war is about resources and quotes the gas reserves and water supply to Crimea. The Novosti Press agency release , soo taken down as the attack stalled, was all about the historic status of Ukraine as a part of Russia.
      A simple one factor explanation is so much easier but might not be accurate.

    • Andrew Nichols
      March 4, 2022 at 18:32

      The deliberate lack of critical reception given by our state friendly corporate media over this plainly bs thing about “Iranian missiles” rang alarm bells when it happened, long before the Ukrainian destabilisation. Our media do as much of their propaganda by what they fail to examine and cover as they do by what they cover and how they present it

  15. vinnieoh
    March 4, 2022 at 12:47

    Thanks CN for posting this. Steven Starr another voice of sanity.

  16. Aware Now
    March 4, 2022 at 12:37

    Thank you Mr. Starr. This thing is snapping together like an erector set. Unfortunately, thousands of Russians are blamed for an offensive than in actuality is defensive in nature. Unfortunately too, for those who have advanced to the third level of ignorance in this matter.

  17. Carl Harris
    March 4, 2022 at 12:09

    Regarding the photo purportedly of US troops deplaning in Nuremberg, are we supposed to believe they fly into friendly territory with their rifles?

Comments are closed.