Would Russia have invaded if Ukraine had kept its nuclear bombers?

As the war in Ukraine enters its fourth week, Dino Cararra looks back at the nuclear bomber fleet the newly independent eastern European state inherited and considers whether Russia would have invaded if the country had retained these formidable aircraft

When Ukraine was part of the USSR the Soviet military based a huge amount of forces there, including a significant number of nuclear-capable bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Over 1,700 nuclear weapons came into Ukraine’s possession when it declared independence in 1991, which meant it had the third biggest nuclear arsenal in the world.

After the break-up of the USSR the entire fleet of Tu-160s was on Ukrainian territory. Nine Blackjacks were bought by Russia from Ukraine and now form part of a larger fleet with other examples. Pictured is a Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-160.
After the break-up of the USSR the entire fleet of Tu-160s was on Ukrainian territory. Nine Blackjacks were bought by Russia from Ukraine and now form part of a larger fleet with other examples. Pictured is a Russian Aerospace Forces Tu-160. Flickr Commons/Dmitry Terekhov

Approximately 3,000 military aircraft were stationed in Ukraine by the USSR, about half of which were jet combat and reconnaissance aircraft. While the Soviet Union passed control of the strategic forces to Russia, the elements in Ukraine were claimed by decree by the now independent country on February 17, 1992.

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