Duma Drafts Resolution Then Postpones Vote on START II

Craig Cerniello

ANGRY AT the December 16–19 U.S.-British military strikes against Iraq, the Russian Duma, or lower house of parliament, postponed a planned vote on START II ratification in the final weeks of December. Although the Duma has placed START II on the agenda for its spring 1999 session, which begins on January 12, no date has been set for a vote on the treaty.

Submitted to the Duma by President Boris Yeltsin in June 1995, START II has been held up by concerns about specific treaty provisions, NATO enlargement and U.S. adherence to the ABM Treaty. After Yevgeny Primakov's appointment as prime minister last September, however, the outlook for ratification improved considerably.

Following closed-door hearings during which First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov made a strong appeal for the treaty, the Duma announced on November 10 that it had ordered the relevant committees to prepare promptly the necessary documents for ratification.

Subsequently, Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Duma's international affairs committee, and Roman Popkovich, head of the defense committee, produced a draft resolution of ratification, providing the best indication to date that the Russian parliament was now ready to seriously consider the treaty.

The draft resolution of ratification— published December 9 by the Russian-based PIR Center—does not change the terms of START II, but does give insight into key Russian concerns about the treaty and its implementation. Most significantly, it stipulates that Russia will not allow START II to enter into force until the U.S. Senate has approved the September 1997 package of agreements signed in New York. This package, which the Clinton administration has yet to submit to the Senate, includes a protocol extending the START II implementation period by five years, a memorandum of understanding identifying the successor states to the former Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty, as well as two agreed statements establishing a "demarcation line" between permitted theater missile defense (TMD) systems and restricted ABM systems. (See ACT, September 1997.)

This linkage to the September 1997 agreements could seriously delay START II implementation because key Senate Republicans, such as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-NC), have already declared their opposition to the ABM portion of the package.

In addition, the draft resolution outlines the "extraordinary events" under which Russia would have the right to withdraw from START II. These include U.S. violation of START II or withdrawal from the ABM Treaty; a destabilizing buildup of strategic nuclear forces by states that are not parties to START II; deployment of nuclear weapons on the territories of new NATO member-states (Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic); deployment by any state of weapon systems that could interfere with Russia's early-warning capabilities; and extraordinary economic or technical events that would prevent Moscow from fulfilling its START II obligations. The resolution also calls upon Russia government to provide adequate funding for its strategic nuclear forces under the treaty—a major concern given Moscow's financial difficulties.

Upon receiving assurances from Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that the Duma would vote favorably on the treaty by the end of the year, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced on December 9 that she would travel to Moscow in January to begin negotiations on START III. That agreement would limit each side to no more than 2,500 deployed strategic warheads by the end of 2007.

After the United States and Britain launched air strikes against Iraq on December 16, however, Sergei Prikhodko, President Yeltsin's deputy chief-of-staff for foreign affairs, stated, "You can forget about START II ratification." Russia blasted the military action as a flagrant violation of international law and recalled its ambassador to Washington. On December 22, Vladimir Ryzhkov, first deputy speaker in the Duma, stated that while START II is on the agenda for spring 1999, there is "no guarantee" that the treaty will be ratified at that time. While Albright is scheduled to visit Moscow on January 25–27, the United States has no plans to begin START III negotiations due to the Duma's decision to postpone START II ratification.