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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 35, March 1999

Duma and President Agree on START II Ratification Terms and Timetable

On 16 March, the Speaker of the Lower House of the Russian Parliament, the Duma, announced that he would be formally requesting from President Yeltsin the commencement of ratification proceedings for the START (Strategic Arms Reduction) II Treaty. Gennady Seleznyov told reporters he hoped the ratification debate could begin before Prime Minister Primakov's visit to the United States, scheduled for 23 March. This proved impractical, however, and a provisional date of 2 April was agreed, although there were strong suggestions - even before the cancellation of Primakov's visit due to the Kosovo crisis - that this might slip until the middle of the month.

The ratification bill sent to the President by the Duma reportedly placed a number of conditions on Russian accession, most importantly that Russia could withdraw from the Treaty if America's missile defence programme led to any abrogation or unilateral amendment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. According to reports, the ratification bill also referred to the need for financial assistance in meeting the requirements of the Treaty, which would reduce the ceiling on strategic warheads per side to 3,500 from START I's maximum level of 6,000. A further stipulation would be the immediate commencement of negotiations for a START III Treaty. The Clinton Administration has pledged to abide by the ABM Treaty, while seeking amendments to it; it has also frequently expressed support for an early start to START III negotiations.

On 22 March, President Yeltsin approved the Duma's proposals, leading the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Vladimir Lukin, to proclaim that "[c]hances for...START II ratification now are higher than [at] any time in the past..." Another factor mitigating strongly in favour of ratification is the unanimous support in the Duma for a bill settling the details of the financing of Russian strategic nuclear forces until 2010. On 17 March, the first reading of the bill passed by 376 votes to 0 with 1 abstention. The purpose of the bill, in the words of the Chair of the Defence Committee, Roman Popkovich, is to "ensure the country's defence capability and global strategic stability." In early February, Popkovich expressed the view that without such legislation, START II ratification would be both unlikely and imprudent (see last issue).

Editor's note: on 27 March, the Duma passed a resolution (by 366 votes to 4) condemning NATO's bombing of Serbia and requesting the temporary withdrawal of the START II ratification bill. See next issue for more details and reaction.

Reports: Russia Duma nationalists call for START-2 ratification, Itar-Tass, 2 March; Duma not to discuss START-2 ratification on March 5, Itar-Tass, 3 March; Duma to ask Kremlin to begin START-2 ratification, Reuters, 16 March; Duma passes law on strategic nuclear forces, Itar-Tass, 17 March; Yeltsin OKs bill on START II Treaty, Associated Press, 22 March.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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