November and December 2023 Fletcher Eurasia Club Lunch Seminars

By Nayan Seth, MGA 2024 Candidate, The Fletcher School

Examining Ukraine’s Decision to Relinquish Nuclear Weapons

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the issue of Kyiv surrendering its nuclear weapons in the 1990s has attracted considerable debate. In hindsight, it is regarded by many as a historic blunder by Ukrainian leaders who gave up the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. 

But a new book by Mariana Budjeryn, a Senior Research Associate at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School, challenges that narrative. She joined the Fletcher Eurasia Club’s lunch seminar series on November 21, 2023 to discuss her new book, “Inheriting the Bomb: The Collapse of the USSR and the Nuclear Disarmament of Ukraine.” She examined the history and politics of Ukraine’s nuclear decision-making in the early 1990s after the disintegration of the USSR, emphasizing the role of Ukrainian leaders in shaping the outcome. “It turns out Ukraine did have options, and it did have an agency in the matter. It was not an overdetermined outcome.”

In the pursuit of safety assurances, Budjeryn highlighted that Ukraine signed a political “memorandum and not a treaty” while relinquishing its nuclear arsenal in the form of the Budapest Memorandum. “It contained assurances to Ukraine, to respect its international borders, not to use force against it, as well as nuclear NPT related nuclear security assurances.” As a signatory to that pact, Russia violated those agreements in 2014, first with the annexation of Crimea and again with the war in the Donbas. 

Apart from nuclear weapons, Kyiv relinquished strategic weapons like ICBMs and bombers like Tu-95s and Tu-160s, some of which are now being deployed by Russia in the ongoing war against Ukraine. Budjeryn believes that Ukraine, at the time, had a claim to be a “legitimate successor state of a legitimized nuclear power” and possessed a “handsome proliferator startup package.” 

“Ukraine was different from any other kind of nuclear aspirant. It had a claim to have to be a legitimate successor state of a recognized nuclear power. It gave it up in order to be an international citizen in good standing to do the right thing,” Budjeryn said. 

Digitalization and Investment Opportunities in Eurasia

On November 28, 2023, the Fletcher Eurasia Club hosted technology investor Anatoly Motkin to explore the economic landscape, digitization, and investment opportunities across Eurasia. Arman Grigoryan, a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Fletcher, also took part in the event, commenting on digitalization in Armenia. The conversation was held under the Chatham House Rule.

Analyzing Kazakhstan’s Multivector Foreign Policy 

In recent years, Kazakhstan has performed a near-perfect balancing act in its relationships with Russia, China, and the West. The country, as part of the former Soviet Union, is still considered very much within Russia’s orbit, but it has also succeeded in establishing stronger ties with China, the EU, and the U.S. How is Kazakhstan managing to engage with opposing powers without compromising its national interests? The answer lies in Kazakhstan’s multivector foreign policy, i.e. the art of balancing relationships with major powers like Russia, China, and the West. 

Miras Zhiyenbayev, an expert in Kazakhstan’s foreign policy and multilateralism and foreign policy advisor to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, joined the Fletcher Eurasia Club’s lunch seminar series on December 5, 2023 to analyze the country’s diplomatic choices and discuss his new book, “Widening the Scope: How Middle Powers are Changing Liberal Institutionalism.”

Zhiyenbayev started by delving into the origins of the policy after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. “We found ourselves in a very tricky position of how to establish a sovereign state in a shifting power dynamic situation.” The country first focused on its ties with Russia. Zhiyenbayev argued that unlike Ukraine, which has had strained relations with Russia since its inception, Belarus “lost its sovereignty” to Moscow. But, Kazakhstan, in his view, “managed to strike a balance with Russia and created constructive relations with all in our neighborhood, the European Union, China, and the Arab world.” 

With the rise of China and the perceived decline of American unipolarity, he focused on the ongoing changes in the global balance of power that are conducive for states like Kazakhstan. “This shift in power dynamics diminished the universal influence of great powers, opening up opportunities for groups of smaller states to challenge these larger entities and assert their position on the global stage,” Zhiyenbayev said. The diminishing influence of great powers is strengthening the role of middle powers. 

“In the current context of multilateralism, middle powers should no longer be seen merely as lesser states. They should be viewed as crucial centers around which multilateral cooperation takes shape. They play a pivotal role in bridging the gap between the major powers and smaller states,” Zhiyenbayev added. 

The Role of Unmanned and Autonomous Technologies in the Russia-Ukraine War

As the Russia-Ukraine war grinds on, neither side has managed to break the stalemate and achieve major breakthroughs. Experts believe the numerous unmanned and autonomous technologies deployed by both sides are key to this development. Samuel Bendett, a Fletcher alumnus and an advisor with the Center for Naval Analyses (CNA) gave a lunch seminar to the Fletcher Eurasia Club on December 12, 2023, discussing the role of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the ongoing war.

Bendett believes that Russia’s war in Ukraine was “all about UAVs” as Moscow invested in and manufactured several key autonomous systems at scale. “What Russians were able to do is they were able to invest in several key UAV systems, which are now manufactured at scale.”

Apart from production prowess, Russia is also adaptable to using commercial drone technologies from countries like China in its military-industrial systems. “Russia’s military proved flexible enough not to stand in its own way when it came to the essential incorporation of both military-industrial systems as well as commercial systems,” Bendett said. 

He argued that although Ukraine pioneered the use of UAVs in the war, it lacks the industrial base to produce at scale. “Ukraine has a lot of capacity, but it doesn’t have a lot of depth in terms of identifying very specific national champions that should be flying on a very massive scale.”

Bendett asserted that Ukraine is “probably a global champion” in maritime systems and is way ahead of Russia’s capabilities because it is fielding multiple generations of unmanned surface vehicles. “It is Ukraine, a country without an actual navy that is able to bottle up the Russian Navy in ports and endanger Russian ships at sea. It put the onus on the defenders, the Russians, in order for them to invest a lot of resources to protect their ships in ports.”

He predicted that 2024 would be the “year of the swarm” in UAV use. “This [might] possibly be the year where we will see battlefield AI and machine learning used on a limited scale. This is the year where we can possibly see limited actual combat autonomy in the field where the vehicles will operate autonomously for a period of time as they go after the target,” Bendett said.


Leave a Reply