Finally, on July 31, 1991, President George Bush and President Gorbachev signed the START I treaty, which called for a gradual reduction of strategic arms over the next decade. Soon afterward, the two nations began negotiations toward a START II treaty that would provide further arms reductions. START II was signed in January 1993.

However, before START II could be ratified, START I had to be implemented. No one at the Moscow START I signing ceremony could have foreseen the events of the next month that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In the aftermath of the failed coup attempt of August 1991, Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin in effect inherited the reins of power from the beleaguered Gorbachev. In the ensuing political chaos, Soviet republics broke away from Russia to form independent states. Three of the new republics (Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine) inherited part of the Soviet UnionŐs strategic nuclear stockpile. As a result, the three new nations had to be coaxed into the START I framework. UkraineŐs divorce from the former Soviet Union, which led to numerous disputes over boundaries, economic relations, and the status of the Black Sea Fleet, was typical of the complexities of the new situation. With their new nationŐs potential status as the worldŐs third-largest nuclear power, Ukrainian politicians found that they had considerable leverage in dealings with Moscow and Washington.

After extracting numerous concessions, the leaders of the three post-Soviet nuclear powers came together with Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton in Budapest on December 5, 1994, to exchange "instruments of ratification" for START I. With this exchange, START I could be implemented and START II could undergo ratification by the participating countries.