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Radio reviews: The Documentary: The Night Ukraine Gave Up Its Nuclear Weapons and Sounds Like a Cult

24 June 2022

Alamy

A placard commemorating the 1994 Budapest Memorandum is held up at a demonstration in support of Ukraine, in London, last month. The Memorandum was the subject of The Documentary: The Night Ukraine Gave Up its Nuclear Weapons (World Service, Tuesday of last week)

A placard commemorating the 1994 Budapest Memorandum is held up at a demonstration in support of Ukraine, in London, last month. The Memorandum was th...

IS THERE something like a statute of limitations which prevents parties’, after a reasonable time has elapsed, declaring “I told you so”? The question came to mind while listening to The Documentary: The Night Ukraine Gave Up its Nuclear Weapons (World Service, Tuesday of last week), in which long-term commentators on Russian affairs argued that, had Ukraine not been strong-armed into signing the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, we would not now be in this mess.

The Memorandum, between Russia, the United States, and Ukraine, resulted in the latter relinquishing those nuclear warheads left behind after the breakdown of the Soviet Union. There were accusations of strong-arm tactics by both superpowers; the accusation now current is that the West has not properly fulfilled its “assurance” of protection to Ukraine.

“Assurance” or “guarantee”? On that semantic distinction rests much of the debate. Tobias Ellwood, who chairs the Defence Select Committee, is clear that the language in the Memorandum “was not robust enough from a technical, legal point of view”. The opinion is shared by Dr Vlad Mykhnenko, now of the University of Oxford, but, back in the early 1990s, a teenager who confronted President Kravchuk, in a public debate, with the question: Why give up the nukes?

For the answer, you can take the word of the pundits here, who reminded us of the intense concern at the time about nuclear proliferation; or you can look at the James Bond back catalogue, in which, during the ’90s, the arch-villains spent their time buying defunct Russian missiles and selling them to terrorists. The course of Russian history post-1990 was highly unpredictable, and it is no use assigning moral culpability for the chaos of history on the butterfly flapping its wings.

In a recent Radio 4 documentary, reviewed in this column, the assertion was made that in the UK there exist at least 2000 cults (Radio, 3 December 2021). What constituted a cult in this statistic was not explained, although, if the criteria are as widely defined as they are in Sounds like a Cult (podcast, downloadable at soundslikeacult.com), then I imagine all of us belong to at least one. Indeed, this is a weekly show that has just reached its first anniversary; that is already a lot of material.

Recent episodes include discussion of 12 Steps programmes; the actor/singer Jared Leto; and a cappella singing. And, in fact, if you think that a cult is defined by its strict rules, initiation rituals, intense inter-group relationships, and the threat of ostracism for those who deviate from acceptable behaviour, then a cappella ensembles might well be deemed cultic.

All of this is handled with a light touch by the US comedians Amanda Montell and Isa Medina, who are highly engaging, and can teach many a newbie podcaster about sticking to their subject.

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