ARUN RATH, HOST:
The United States and other world powers have said that Russia's actions in Ukraine are a clear violation of its international agreements. One of those agreements is known as the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994.
Steven Pifer is a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. And he was part of the American team that negotiated the terms of the memorandum.
STEVEN PIFER: When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine had on its territory the world's third largest nuclear arsenal. It was bigger than Britain, France and China combined. And the Ukrainians were prepared to eliminate that arsenal to transfer the warheads to Russia for their dismantlement, but the Ukrainians asked for certain things. And one was security assurances that the United States and Russia would pay attention and respect Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity, that there would be no use of force or threat of force against Ukraine.
And the 1994 Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances was the document that reflects those commitments by the United States. And Russia also joined by Great Britain to extend to Ukraine those assurances, including respect for its territorial integrity.
RATH: Now, when you look at events over the last couple of weeks and look against especially those first couple of points in the Budapest Memorandum, what do you think?
PIFER: Well, I think it's very clear that Russia is in violation of its commitments, not only to the Budapest Memorandum, but also commitments that it's made as a member of the United Nations and also as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. What you see happening over the last week in Crimea is nothing less than a Russian military occupation of the peninsula.
RATH: And the United States, along with Great Britain, is part of this agreement, so what are the U.S. responsibilities?
PIFER: There's a very important reason why it's the Budapest Memorandum of Assurances and not of guarantees. And we were very clear - and the Ukrainians understood this back in 1994 - that we were not going to use the word guarantee because we were not prepared to extend a military commitment.
So I think that given what we see in this threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity, the United States and Britain by that are committed to extend various measures - political, diplomatic, even economic - to support Ukraine and try to push back against this Russian violation of the memorandum.
RATH: So we're required to do something, but it's not entirely clear what that something has to be?
PIFER: It wasn't exactly specified, but there was certainly at the time a clear understanding in Washington that the United States would react. And because the Ukrainians in 1993, as we were getting ready to bring this to closure, made very clear that a key element for them in their decision finally to get rid of those nuclear weapons was going to be having some kind of a commitment that had the Russians in particular signing on respecting their independence and their sovereignty and a pledge not to use force.
RATH: So looking across the world, Moammar Gadhafi gave up his nuclear program. And then several years later, he ends up getting overthrown and killed. Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons for these guarantees, and they end up getting ignored, it seems, over the last couple of weeks. Are you worried about the message this sends to countries with nuclear programs - Iran, Pakistan, North Korea?
PIFER: Well, it may be slower than (unintelligible), but I do think that the United States and the west are now gearing up to do a couple of things. One is to be supportive of Ukraine, including politically and also working with the International Monetary Fund financially. There are also a number of political, diplomatic, economic sanctions that are now being laid out towards Russia.
And I think that is important in two cases. It matters for Ukraine and our commitment to Ukraine, but it also is an important signal for security assurances in general. It's not inconceivable, for example, that if we get to a final arrangement with Iran whereby Iran addresses the world's concerns about its nuclear program that security assurances could be part of that package. And we don't want to discredit security assurances by how we handle them with Ukraine.
RATH: That's Ambassador Steven Pifer. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and is now a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution. Ambassador Pifer, thank you so much.
PIFER: Thank you for having me.
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RATH: This is NPR News.
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