Is Ukraine’s victory possible without nuclear disarmament of Russia? IPN debate

Russia’s war against Ukraine is a very big evil and the 11 months of war provided pertinent evidence of this: hundreds of thousands of people were killed and injured on both sides, including civilians and children. There are millions of refugees, internally displaced people and deportees, tens and thousands of localities that were fully or partially destroyed, critical infrastructure damaged on a large part of Ukraine’s territory. As a result, other millions of people remained without elementary services in the winter: electricity, heat, drinking water and food. And there is yet place for worse as one of the belligerent states, the Russian Federation, has big nuclear military potential that it could use in particular circumstances, as it said itself, with unimaginable consequences that would be much more serious than the current ones. The experts invited to IPN’s public debate “Is Ukraine’s victory possible without the nuclear disarmament of Russia? Did mankind reach the point for general nuclear disarmament?” discussed the extent of the danger, what international community can do to prevent such developments and what can be done in case of a nuclear explosion.

Igor Boțan, the permanent expert of IPN’s project, said the nuclear weapons emit a huge quantity of energy produced as a result of a fission or fusion chain reaction. In case of fusion, it goes to hydrogen bombs, while in case of fission – to heavy uranium or plutonium nuclei. “The nuclear weapon forms part of the category of weapons of mass destruction intended to kill a very large number of people and to destroy buildings and important military facilities. The biosphere in general is seriously affected. To make an imaginative comparison of nuclear weapons and conventional weapons, we should note that the first nuclear weapon had an equivalent in conventional explosive of almost 20,000 tonnes. The first hydrogen bomb had a destruction potential that was 500 times higher,” explained Igor Boțan.

According to him, the nuclear war is a conflict between states that have such weapons. Against the conventional war, the nuclear war is much more destructive and spreads on a much wider area. “In a nuclear explosion, the destructive factors include the shockwave, radiation and electromagnetic impulse that leads to the breakdown of all electric appliances,” said the expert.

Five states that form part of the UN Security Council have nuclear weapons – the United States, Russia, the UK, France, and China. Besides, India, Pakistan and North Korea also possess nuclear weapons. South Africa also had such weapons, but renounced them by destroying them. It is presumed that Israel also has nuclear weapons. “According to statistics, these countries together have approximately 20,000 nuclear weapons and 4,500 of these are functional and can be used. So, the danger is very, very serious for mankind, if a nuclear war is started,” noted Igor Boțan.

The director of the Institute of Legal, Political and Sociological Research of the Academy of Sciences of Moldova Victor Juc said there are different types of nuclear weapons – atomic, hydrogen, bacteriological, biological. The first weapon of mass destruction was the chemical weapon used in World War I. “In World Wat II, we remmeber that Japan was attacked by the United States with two atomic bombs. In the 1950s, the hydrogen bomb appeared in the Soviet Union. In the list of nuclear states, there are also potential states that can produce such weapons. A lot was rumored about the nuclear program of Iran and the country was subject to all kinds of bans and sanctions. In 2015, Iran and six important states reached an agreement. But later the U.S., under Donald Trump, withdrew and it seemed that Iran would be admitted into the international commercial circuit. But after it started to be suspected of offering drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles to Russia, it was subject to sanctions again,” stated Victor Juc.

As to Ukraine’s objectives, Victor Juc said these are very simple – freeing of the occupied territories and restoration of the territorial integrity that was generally recognized in 1991. Until 1994, Ukraine was a nuclear state, but under the Budapest Memorandum, on the insistence of the U.S., alongside another two post-Soviet states, the nuclear warheads were transferred the Russian Federation. The U.S. considered it can earlier come to terms with Russia on the issue.

According to him, Russia’s announced and unannounced objectives in the war against Ukraine went through a very important evolution. Initially, the main declared objective was to intimidate by changing the elected democratically constitutional political regime. When Russia realized a quick victory wasn’t possible, it switched over to a war of attrition and the objective was to conquer territories. Four regions of Ukraine were ultimately incorporated into Russia by presidential decrees. The objective changed after the middle of last October - to exterminate by striking especially critical infrastructure and residential quarters. Russia’s goals are well-known and negotiations on an agreement or at least on a ceasefire are not possible.

Retired colonel doctor Ion Apostol, , ex-director of the National Agency for Regulation of Nuclear and Radiological Activities, ex-vice director of the Department of Exceptional Situations and international expert in nuclear and radiological emergencies of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the liberation of its territories is a very clear goal of Ukraine. But it is not very clear what Russia’s goals in this conflict are.

According to him, the military aspect of the use of nuclear energy hasn’t been discussed by the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. So far these examined only the peaceful aspect of the use of atomic energy by states. Given the current military conflict, accidents can occur at one of the unclear stations. The power plant in Zaporozhe is in the focus of international organization and states situated nearby, including the Republic of Moldova, given that the warzone is very close.

“The nuclear plant in Zaporozhe is one of the largest in Europe. It has six very powerful reactors. It now does not work, but an unplanned incident can anyway happen there as Russia’s borders are close to the plant in Zaporozhe. That’s why the International Atomic Energy Agency does very difficult and important work to find a way out of the situation and to avoid an eventual accident at a nuclear plant on Ukraine’s territory. The main proposal is to demilitarize the given plants and the areas in which they are located,” said the expert.

The debate entitled “Is Ukraine’s victory possible without the nuclear disarmament of Russia? Did mankind reach the point for general nuclear disarmament?” was the third installment of the series “Impact of the Past on Confidence and Peace Building Processes” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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