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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 23, February 1998

START II Comment in Russia

According to Russia's First Deputy Minister Nikolai Mikhailov, the Duma - the lower house of the Russian Parliament - will debate ratification of the START (Strategic Arms Reduction) II Treaty during its spring session. Speaking on 4 February, Mikhailov strongly urged the Duma to ratify, arguing that the consequent levels of strategic weapons - around 3,500 warheads per side - would in no way diminish Russia security:

"The effectiveness of containment depends not on quantitative but qualitative factors. If technical intelligence, management systems and information technologies remain at their present level or evolve, the strike potential of the Strategic Nuclear Forces can be reduced significantly without detriment to the country's security..."

For the same reason, Mikhailov argued that "considerable cuts" beyond those stipulated in START II could easily be accommodated. He added that, in order to maintain forces at START I levels - around 6,000 warheads per side - the Defence Ministry would have to start implementing undesirable cuts in other services and weapons. He even suggested that "if Russia does not reduce its nuclear weapons while improving its quality, it will be the end of reform in the Army and in the Navy."

Mikhailov also gave a glimpse into Russian thinking on nuclear-weapons modernisation: "In the 1960s and 1970s, success in fulfilling tasks was measured by megatons of nuclear charges. Now technological achievements in the field of nuclear weapons make it possible to reduce the charge to one kiloton, while increasing its effectiveness through higher delivery accuracy... It would be a great stupidity not to use the achievements of our military science..."

On 9 February, in an interview with Itar-Tass, Major-General Roman Popkovich, a member of the State Duma Defence Committee, stressed that ratification would take place in the absence of certain guarantees, most importantly on the likely speed and scope of negotiations on a START III Treaty, on the strict maintenance of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and on the non-deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO States.

Some concern was voiced in February that any US military action against Iraq would end hopes of START II ratification, at least in 1998. On 19 February, Vladimir Yakovlev, the Commander-in-Chief of Strategic Nuclear Forces, told a press conference that such a linkage would be wholly inappropriate: "[T]here is no relation between ratification of the START II Treaty and a possible US strike against Iraq. These are contradicting things which have nothing to do with nuclear missile strategy."

In the same press conference, Yakovlev said that effective reform of the Russian armed forces was inconceivable in the absence of "a nuclear shield and a factor of deterrence."

Editor's note: on 27 February, it was reported by the Interfax news agency that Russia would commence production in the summer of a major facility to dismantle SS-24 and SS-25 strategic nuclear missiles as required by the START I Treaty. The facility will be in Izhevsk, over 600 miles southeast of Moscow. According to the report, construction will begin in June and is expected to last 18 months.

Reports: START-2 ratification vital for military reform in Russia, Itar-Tass, 4 February; US guarantees for START-3 signing needed, Itar-Tass, 9 February; General rules out link between START ratification, Iraq, Itar-Tass, 19 February; Army reform in doubt without nuclear shield and deterrence, Itar-Tass, 20 February; Russia plans to dismantle missiles, Associated Press, 27 February.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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