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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 27, June 1998

Duma Postpones START II Ratification Decision

On 10 June, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, voted overwhelmingly - by 235 votes to 39, with no abstentions - to postpone a decision on ratifying the Strategic Arms Reduction (START) II Treaty until the autumn. Ratification hearings had been planned for 16 June, but were cancelled at the request of Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, supported by Communists, the main opposition party. According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vladimir Rakhmanin (10 June), an important factor in the Duma's decision was the uncertainty created by the nuclear tests in South Asia: "The international decision, especially after the nuclear tests carried out by India and Pakistan, have drawn the attention [of the Duma] to the question of nuclear disarmament."

The decision was deplored (10 June) by Roman Popkovich, Chair of the Duma's Defence Committee, who told deputies: "By taking this decision, you have struck a serious blow to the prospects of developing Russia's nuclear forces..."

Also speaking on 10 June, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressed her disappointment at the decision, arguing that developments in South Asia strengthened the argument for ratification:

"I deeply regret [this] decision... I hope that the majority of the Russian legislature will come to understand what its clearest thinkers already have - which is that, in the light of the South Asian nuclear tests, START II ratification is now more urgent than ever."

On 5 June, Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov and Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev met Parliamentary leaders to urge ratification. Communist deputy Gennady Seleznyov, the Speaker of the Duma, told reporters afterwards: "We listened very attentively to the information provided and agreed that consultations should continue." However, asked if ratification was likely this summer, Seleznyov was clear: "No, there is no point getting into a disarmament race." Also speaking after the 5 June discussions, Vladimir Lukin, Chair of the Duma's International Relations Committee and a prominent START II supporter, observed: "All responsible deputies understand that it is necessary to ratify START II. Russia should be more concerned about ratification of the treaty than the United States."

The decision to postpone a decision throws into doubt the timing and likely substance of the next US-Russia summit. The US had hoped for a summer summit to launch negotiations for a START III accord. Linking the summit to START II ratification has provoked criticism in the Duma. According to Speaker Seleznyov, spaeking on 2 June:

"Whenever I meet US lawmakers, I ask them politely [to] tell their President not to articulate phrases that he will not go to Russia if START II is not ratified by the State Duma... If he says the phrase once more, he may count on the postponement of the discussion of the treaty for an indefinite period of time. As they say, Russians have their own pride, so when foreign Presidents are trying to impose their dates and terms on us, we simply don't take it."

Editor's notes: on 16 June, the Interfax news agency reported that Russian military officials were expressing concern about a possible US violation of the terms of the START I Treaty. The alleged transgression concerned Britain's ability to carry 10 to 12 warheads on the Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) it has purchased from the United States. START I specifies a limit of eight warheads per missile. Although the UK is not a START I signatory, Interfax reported concern that British testing of the missiles in the US amounted to a violation certainly of the spirit of the treaty, and could be interpreted as US-UK collaboration to circumvent treaty limits. Interfax further stated that these concerns were raised with the Chair of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Henry Shelton, in Moscow on 14 June. No immediate comment on the report was forthcoming from the Russian Defence Ministry, while Foreign Ministry spokesperson Igor Nesterukhin told the Associated Press on 16 June that he knew of no official complaints having been lodged. On 10 June, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev urged the US and Russia to "quit dragging their feet" over the pace and proposed scale of nuclear reductions. Gorbachev was speaking at the first International Conference on the Environmental Consequences of War at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Reports: Russian parliament to hold closed hearings on START II, Associated Press, 2 June; Russia presses for START-2 ratification, Reuters, 5 June; Russian leaders meet on START II, Associated Press, 5 June; Kremlin steps up drive for START 2 ratification, Reuters, 7 June; Gorbachev - weapons must be destroyed, United Press International, 10 June; Duma drops START 2 hearing from agenda, Reuters, 10 June; Russian Duma delays START hearings, United Press International, 10 June; Report - Russia says US broke Treaty, Associated Press, 16 June.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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