DRAMATICALLY underscoring Russian anger at NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia, Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov turned his plane around over the Atlantic and canceled a March 23–25 visit with Vice President Al Gore in Washington to discuss a broad range of issues, including arms control. Yet the degree to which the air strikes, which began March 24, will impede U.S.-Russian progress on arms control remains unclear, as setbacks on START II and "Y2K" cooperation were balanced by progress on the highly enriched uranium (HEU) purchase agreement and the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. (See CFE story.)
START II Delayed—Again
Primakov, recognizing that the NATO air strikes had poisoned the political climate for START II ratification, asked the Duma on March 26 to postpone its consideration of the treaty. The next day, the Duma overwhelmingly adopted a 16-point resolution condemning NATO's military action and recommending that the Russian government "temporarily revoke" the draft START II resolution of ratification submitted by President Boris Yeltsin only days earlier.
On March 16, the START II ratification process—sidetracked by the U.S.-British air strikes against Iraq in December (see ACT, November/December 1998)—had resumed when the Duma forwarded to Yeltsin the resolution of ratification produced by International Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin and Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich. Under Russian legislative procedures, only the president can submit ratification bills to the Duma.
Also on March 16, Primakov warned on national television that if Russia failed to ratify START II, the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, creating the possibility of a new arms race.
On March 17, the Duma almost unanimously approved the first "reading" (an initial step in the legislative process) of a separate bill guaranteeing funding for Russia's strategic nuclear forces through 2010. Popkovich had argued that resolving such financial issues was necessary for ratification of START II. Two days after the vote, the Duma announced that it would debate START II ratification on April 2.
Yeltsin submitted the Lukin-Popkovich bill to the Duma on March 22, clearing the way for its approval. When NATO air strikes against Yugoslavia began on March 24, however, momentum for START II ground to a halt.
Despite their opposition to the NATO action, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev defended START II during the special March 27 Duma session on the Balkan crisis. During his sixth annual address to the nation on March 30, Yeltsin also expressed Russia's continuing support for the START process.
Y2K Cooperation on Hold
On March 26, an official from the Russian Ministry of Defense told Interfax that in response to the NATO air strikes, it would cease cooperation with the U.S. Defense Department on the so-called "Y2K" problem, whereby computers mistakenly interpret the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000. Malfunctions caused by this problem could have serious consequences in areas such as early warning.
During a February 18-19 meeting of the Defense Consultative Group—a regular forum for discussions between the Defense Department and Ministry of Defense—the United States had proposed creating a temporary joint early-warning center in Colorado Springs to help monitor foreign ballistic missile launches during the transition to the new millennium (roughly mid-December 1999 through mid-January 2000). The United States also offered to work with Russia about management techniques and key technologies that could be used to combat Y2K-related problems.
The United States and Russia have already agreed to create a permanent joint early-warning center on Russian territory. The center is part of an agreement made at the Moscow Summit in September 1998 for the two nations to share, on a continuous and real-time basis, early-warning information on the worldwide launches of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles. (See ACT, August/September 1998.) Because of the complexity of the negotiations over implementation of the summit agreement, however, this permanent center will not be completed in time to deal with the Y2K problem.
Prior to the NATO air strikes, Russia had responded positively to the U.S. proposal for a temporary joint early-warning center. A Defense Department spokeswoman stated that despite the March 26 Ministry of Defense statement, the department has not received any official communication from Russia regarding cancellation of Y2K cooperation and is still making preparations for the Colorado Springs facility.
Nuclear Redeployment Rejected
As a gesture of defiance toward the NATO air strikes, the Ukrainian parliament adopted a resolution on March 24 calling upon the government to abandon its non-nuclear status. (Ukraine returned the last of its strategic warheads to Russia in 1996.) Just two days later, however, President Leonid Kuchma said Ukraine would not reconsider the nuclear option. These developments came about one month after Ukraine destroyed the last of its 130 SS-19 ICBMs in accordance with START I.
In Belarus, which likewise transferred its last strategic warheads to Russia in 1996, speculation about the restationing of nuclear weapons has persisted for quite some time, especially in connection with NATO enlargement. Responding to these latest rumors, President Alexander Lukashenko said on March 25 that "Minsk has not asked for the return of nuclear weapons" and no state will be allowed "to wave Belarus at the West like a big stick."
Progress on HEU Implementation
Though the cancellation of Primakov's U.S. visit forced the postponement of the formal session of the Gore-Primakov Commission, U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgeny Adamov did co-chair a meeting of the commission's newly established Nuclear Policy Committee.
On March 24, Richardson and Adamov signed an agreement facilitating implementation of the 1993 HEU accord, under which the United States is to purchase, over a 20-year period, Russian low-enriched uranium (LEU) that has been blended down from 500 metric tons of HEU removed from dismantled nuclear weapons. Russia had threatened to terminate the purchase agreement because it believed that it was not being fairly compensated for the natural uranium component of the LEU deliveries, worth approximately one-third of the $12 billion deal. (See ACT, August/September 1998.)
The new agreement, which calls for the United States to buy the natural uranium from the 1997–1998 Russian LEU shipments, was made possible by the simultaneous completion of a commercial contract between Russia and three Western companies (Cameco, Cogema and Nukem) for the future purchase of the Russian natural uranium.