Duma Criticizes Helsinki Outcome; Postpones START II Discussions


Craig Cerniello

IN THE DAYS following the March 2021 Helsinki summit meeting between President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, influential members of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, criticized the Yeltsin administration for making too many concessions on key national security issues, especially with respect to the planned enlargement of the NATO alliance. Acknowledging that Russia was unable to prevent NATO enlargement, Yeltsin nonetheless defended the results of the summit in a March 26 radio address to the nation. Meanwhile, the Duma announced on April 9 that it would postpone discussion of START II.


Duma Reacts to Helsinki

The Helsinki agreements drew a hostile reaction from several members of the Duma. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyugonov, the most outspoken of these critics, claimed that the summit had been a "crushing defeat" for Moscow and characterized the joint statements as "Russia's Versailles"—a reference to the 1919 Versailles Treaty, which ended World War I and imposed severe conditions on the defeated German state.

Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee (a key committee involved in the START II ratification process), also had a strong initial reaction to the agreements reached in Helsinki. In a clear reference to NATO enlargement, Lukin said, "We can speak of ratifying START II only if there will be greater trust between the sides. And this trust has significantly diminished."

Lukin provided a more thorough analysis of the joint statements in a March 27 article in the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta. In terms of the "Joint Statement on Parameters on Future Reductions in Nuclear Forces," he praised the fiveyear extension of the START II reduction schedule as well as the basic principles for a START III agreement. (See ACT, March 1997.) However, Lukin argued that it was not "realistic" for the Duma to ratify START II before negotiations on START III commence, as called for in the joint statement. "The Duma is in no hurry to ratify [START II], among other reasons, because it sees no promise of a dependable and mutually acceptable strategic balance. For after START II is ratified, the U.S. can well procrastinate or freeze negotiations on START III, and Russia would be in a highly losing position," Lukin said.

Lukin also pointed out some potential difficulties with the "Joint Statement Concerning the AntiBallistic Missile Treaty." Despite the U.S. and Russian commitments to the ABM Treaty, Lukin cautioned that there is "no clear definition" between permitted theater missile defense systems and restricted ABM systems—a situation which he said should be resolved before the sides can move forward with START II and START III. "Lack of clarity about the future of ABM systems is unacceptable for Russia," he argued.

Some other members of the Duma reinforced the negative reaction to NATO enlargement. According to a March 22 Associated Press report, Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin predicted that NATO enlargement would eventually nullify the agreements reached in Helsinki. Mikhail Yuryev of the Yabloko Party also reportedly stated that NATO enlargement "will be directed against Russia."

Yeltsin responded to these critics during his March 26 radio address. While admitting that he was unable to stop NATO enlargement, Yeltsin maintained that Russia had succeeded in minimizing its consequences. In particular, Yeltsin explained that the sides had agreed that NATO will not move its nuclear weapons or armed forces eastward, and that Russia and NATO will sign at the highest levels a "comprehensive document" defining their relationship. He also noted that the United States and Russia reached "very serious agreements" in Helsinki concerning the ABM Treaty and the reduction of strategic offensive nuclear forces.


START II and the Duma

As a clear indication of the resistance Yeltsin is likely to face in pushing for START II ratification, Aleksei Mitrofanov, chairman of the Duma's Geopolitics Committee, announced on April 9 that the Duma has "put off" discussion of the treaty—a decision supported by Lev Rokhlin, chairman of the Duma's Defense Committee (another key committee involved in the START II ratification process). In an April 9 interview with Moscow NTV, Rokhlin argued that the Duma is not ready to take up the treaty because it still has not received from the Yeltsin administration an implementing program, apparently similar to the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review, committing resources and outlining the costs and benefits of modernizing and maintaining Russian strategic forces at START II levels. He also said the Yeltsin government has not responded to the Duma's request for an evaluation as to how NATO enlargement would affect START II.

Although the treaty remains stalled in the Duma, the Russian Strategic Rocket Forces continue to support the strategic arms reduction process. According to an April 23 ItarTass report, CommanderinChief Igor Sergeyev said he was in favor of START III, which, if successfully negotiated, would limit the United States and Russia to 2,0002,500 strategic nuclear warheads each by the end of 2007. He argued that START III would provide for "strategic stability which Russia is able to maintain without substantial additional financial spending."