The Russian State Duma yesterday once again put off discussion of the START II ratification bill, as the Communist Party faction announced that it would not be prepared to discuss the document until at least later this week. The postponement–one of several in recent weeks–comes despite the fact that Russian lawmakers drafted their own ratification bill last month and, it was thought, were more inclined to support it than an earlier bill submitted by the Kremlin.
That may be an erroneous assumption, however. The chairman of the Duma’s Security Committee, Viktor Ilyukhin, yesterday accused the Defense and International Affairs Committees of having violated the constitution and parliamentary procedures in drawing up the new bill. His comments, and those by others yesterday, suggest that there may still be battles to come both within the Duma over the wording of the lawmakers’ draft treaty, and, ultimately, between parliament and the president’s administration over their respective ratification bills.
Ilyukhin also said yesterday that the bill “cannot be considered” until the president and government submit an explanation of how they plan to finance implementation of START II. In addition, communist lawmakers are reportedly demanding a description of the government’s plans for rebuilding Russia’s strategic nuclear forces before they will allow consideration of the ratification bill to go forward. Neither of those demands are new. Moreover, they come despite suggestions from Russian government and military officials that they have already laid out the government’s plans in these areas during conducted briefings for the benefit of lawmakers (Russian agencies, December 15).
An unnamed Kremlin official, meanwhile, told reporters yesterday that the presidential administration is aware that the debate over consideration of START II ratification is likely to be highly politicized. The official said that members of the parliamentary opposition may attempt to link ratification of START II to such diverse issues as NATO enlargement, the need to support Russia’s defense industry and the ongoing state budget debate. Even a demand as outrageous as the resignation of Anatoly Chubais–former first deputy prime minister and currently the head of the state electricity monopoly United Energy Systems–could not be ruled out, the official said. He suggested that political tactics of this sort could drag out the start of formal discussions on ratification until January or February of next year (Itar-Tass, December 15).
That is a far less expeditious schedule than Russian government leaders–and some in parliament as well–have spoken of in recent weeks. Indeed, during their talks in Brussels on December 9 Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reportedly assured U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright that ratification of START II was likely to occur before the end of the year. It was at least in part on that basis, presumably, that Albright announced her intention to visit Moscow in January. The two sides would like to launch follow-up START III talks at that time, but those discussions are dependent upon ratification of START II (UPI, Reuters, December 9).
MASLYUKOV PRESSES CASE FOR RATIFICATION.