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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 42, December 1999

Yeltsin Rattles Nuclear Sabre After Criticism Over Chechnya

Reacting to mounting, stinging Western criticism of Russia's war in Chechnya, President Yeltsin, speaking in Beijing after receiving strong support from the Chinese Government, told reporters: "It seems Mr. Clinton has forgotten Russia is a great power that possesses a nuclear arsenal. We aren't afraid at all of Clinton's anti-Russian position… I want to tell President Clinton that he alone cannot dictate how the world should live, work and play. It is us who will dictate."

On December 14, addressing military officers after witnessing the test-firing of a Topol-M strategic nuclear missile at the Plesetsk missile range in north-west Russia, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated that his Government "will use all diplomatic and military-political levers at its disposal" to maintain its policy independence over Chechnya and other matters. Putin added: "The diplomatic levers are clear, and as for military ones, [the] successful launch of the Topol-M… is one of them… Russia has everything to guarantee its security."

The Topol-M is scheduled to form the centrepiece of Russia's future strategic nuclear force. Ten of the new missiles - which are mobile and carry a single warhead, though with the capacity to be upgraded to carry multiple warheads - were introduced into service in the Saratov region, 450 miles south-west of Moscow on December 10. The first force of ten missiles was deployed in the same region in 1998.

Writing in the Krasnaya Zvezda military newspaper on December 17, Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev, Commander of Strategic Missile Forces, referred with chilling candour to the growing importance of nuclear weapons in Russia's military doctrine and disposition: "Russia, for objective reasons, is forced to lower the threshold for using nuclear weapons, extend the nuclear deterrent to smaller-scale conflicts and openly warn potential opponents about this."

Reports: Yeltsin lashes out at Clinton, Associated Press, December 9; Russia deploys 10 nuclear missiles, Associated Press, December 10; Russia lashes West for 'using language of force,' Reuters, December 14; Russia tests missile, warns West, Associated Press, December 14; Nuclear sabre rattled in warning from Moscow, Reuters, December 17.

Outgoing Duma Refuses to Debate START II

On December 13, the Managing Council of the Russian Duma decided not to include the START II Treaty on the agenda of items to be voted on before the December 19 parliamentary elections. Inclusion of the Treaty - ratified by the US Senate in January 1996 - was strongly urged by President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Putin, but rendered impractical by the opposition of the largest party, the Communists. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said (December 13): "We think the issue is not ready and should not be considered…" The same day, Roman Popkovich, Chair of the Duma Defence Committee and strong Yeltsin/Putin supporter, expressed hopes the new Duma would approve the Treaty "in the first half of 2000".

Opposition to the Treaty on the grounds of the alleged asymmetrical advantages it lends the US, and the perceived assault on the ABM Treaty by Washington, is not confined to the Communists. On December 16, former prime minister and foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov, leader of the Fatherland-All Russia bloc in the Duma elections, stated that although the "START II Treaty has to be ratified, I wouldn't hurry with the ratification now." Prior to ratification, in Primakov's view, it would be necessary for the US to "confirm its commitment to the ABM Treaty." On December 8 Vladimir Ryzhkov, leader of the centrist Our Home is Russia bloc, observed: "Americans want to walk out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and are putting pressure on Russia over Chechnya… we are fulfilling our obligations [particularly with reference to the CFE Treaty] while Americans rudely violate theirs." Ryzhkov also made clear to reporters that the Duma would not countenance rejecting the Treaty and so emulate the US Senate's voting down of the CTBT. The same day, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultra-nationalist bloc, gave his assessment of solid support for the Treaty as 200 out of 450, with 200 firmly set against.

Notes: on December 21, as it became clear that pro-Kremlin parties had exceeded electoral expectations and that the Communists had lost their majority hold over the legislature, an upbeat Prime Minister Putin stated that there was still "a chance to ratify START II" before the new Duma sits in January.

President Yeltsin announced his resignation on December 31, 1999. The Presidential election will be held March 26. The next News Review will contain details and reaction.

On November 29, Bill Bradley, contender for the Democratic nomination for the 2000 US Presidential election, expressed his preference for setting a "very direct pace" in the START process: "I would be in favour of moving beyond START II, even in the absence of ratification by Russia, to the negotiation on START III, with the aim of reducing weaponry to between 1,000 and 2,000 warheads…" The Clinton Administration is adamant that START II ratification by Russia should serve as a prerequisite for fully-fledged START III negotiations.

The Yeltsin Administration is also seeking speedy ratification of the CTBT. According to a Kremlin statement issued on November 22: "The President of Russia has proposed that the question of ratifying the Treaty be made a priority… The Treaty, in Boris Yeltsin's view, meets Russia's interests." The statement added that if Russian "national interests are placed under threat, the Russian Federation can use its right to leave the Treaty." Stressing the withdrawal option seems intended to placate a widespread sentiment that CTBT ratification would increase US control over Russian options, and is in any case a gift the Clinton Administration does not deserve. In the words of Vladimir Ryzhkov: "The Americans are behaving like a bull in a china shop. As long as the United States sticks to its clearly unfriendly policy towards Russia, no Duma is ever going to ratify [the CTBT]…"

Reports: Yeltsin urges test ban ratification, Associated Press, November 22; Yeltsin wants test ban ratified as priority, Reuters, November 22; Bradley addresses foreign policy, Associated Press, November 29; Russian Duma may vote on START II nuclear pact, Reuters, December 8; Russians may discuss arms reduction, Associated Press, December 8; Russia delays START II ratification, Associated Press, December 13; Russian Duma delays ratification of START II, Reuters, December 13; Russian Duma blocks START II, backs Belarus union, Reuters, December 13; Primakov says no START II ratification if USA fails with ABM, Itar-Tass, December 16; Russia PM wants Duma to ratify START II, Reuters, December 21.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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