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Nuke-neutered Ukraine's vulnerability not lost on Iran, say experts

Russia's invasion of Ukraine two decades after the former Soviet republic surrendered its nuclear weapons may have handed Iran the perfect excuse to renege on its agreement to stop its nuke program, according to Middle East analysts.

The Russian incursion into Crimea in southern Ukraine might never have happened if Ukraine had not given up its reported 5,000-strong nuclear weapons arsenal as part of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurance, experts told FoxNews.com. Ukraine received substantial financial assistance and a guarantee of its territorial integrity as part of the deal brokered by the U.S., the United Kingdom and Russia.

Twenty years later, the same three parties are attempting to persuade a wary Iranian regime it should give up on its nuclear ambitions, but the lesson from Ukraine could be that letting your guard down in exchange for economic aid is dangerous.

"What is happening today in the Ukraine is certainly being closely watched first and foremost in Iran.”

- Irena Kalhousova, Institute for National Security Studies

“Far from trying to promote nuclear deterrence, today’s crisis in Crimea sends a very important message to the Middle East,” according to Irena Kalhousova, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv. “What is happening today in the Ukraine is certainly being closely watched first and foremost in Iran.”

In a Times of Israel column, Kalhousova added that Tehran distrusts the West and remains convinced that regime change in Iran is its ultimate goal.

"From the Iranian perspective, to prevent the West from implementing regime change, Iran must rely only on itself,” she said.

Iran is set to begin its latest round of negotiations with the P5+1 this afternoon in Vienna.

Without a nuclear deterrent, Ukraine is hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned by Russian manpower and firepower. It has no prospect of winning any military engagement with a country that for centuries has had such a strong historical influence on its affairs. And Ukraine isn’t the only example that Iran might cite as reason for it not to play ball with theP5+1. Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s rogue regime's 2003 decision to disarm gave a green light to his return to the world stage, but eight years later he was toppled by NATO-supported rebel faction.

“Similarly to Libya, Ukraine gave up its nuclear program and was invaded/attacked by foreign troops," Kalhousova said. "As such, an arsenal of unconventional weapons, including nuclear weapons, is believed to be Iran’s best and only guarantee that Iran will not follow after Libya and now Ukraine.”

Israeli officials have been openly and highly skeptical that the Iranians have ever had any intention of reducing their potential nuclear weapons capability, and have repeatedly warned the West, and in particular the United States, that the Iranians are past masters at subterfuge and double-dealing. On Wednesday, the Israeli Navy revealed it had captured a vessel in the Red Sea that contained a cache of Iranian long-range M-302 missiles destined for Gaza by way of Sudan.

“As it conducts talks with [world] powers, as Iran smiles and utters pleasantries, the same Iran is sending lethal weapons to terror organizations…via an intricate network of clandestine global operations…in order to hurt innocent civilians” Israel’s Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz stated.

If Iran's actions show it was never really willing to give up its nuclear weapons program to begin with, the situation in Ukraine won't help. In fact, it could give the mullahs the excuse they wanted to do what they intended to do all along.

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who can be followed on twitter @ paul_alster and at www.paulalster.com

Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com.