Stanford scholar Michael McFaul, writing in the Washington Post, criticized the Clinton administration’s lack of interest in Russian democracy and its focus on “short-term ‘deliverables'” like ratification of the START II treaty. Russian National Security Advisor Sergei Ivanov, who spent two days in Washington in mid-February, announced last week a new drive to push START II through the Duma. That announcement helps to explain if not justify the praise that President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have showered on Vladimir Putin. But Ivanov’s promise to jump-start START II was a recorded announcement. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin made the same pledge to Vice President Al Gore three years ago, as did Boris Yeltsin to President Clinton. Once again, best efforts may not be good enough.

The bilateral START II agreement, signed in 1993, limits the number of nuclear warheads each side may deploy. The United States Senate ratified the agreement, but the Duma has consistently refused to consider it. The Duma now may be more tractable, but that is uncertain. Parties on record in favor of ratification (Unity, Yabloko, Union of Right-Wing Forces) hold 28 percent of the seats. The Communist Party, the treaty’s staunchest opponent, holds 25 percent.

Treaty opponents link ratification to a U.S. pledge to adhere to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic-Missile (ABM) treaty, which in Russia’s view precludes development of a national or theater missile defense. The Russian government undercuts its own appeal for ratification of START II by supporting the communists in their rejection of U.S. missile-defense plans. Just ten days ago, Russia’s Foreign Ministry, preparing for a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, issued a statement condemning U.S. interest in creating a missile-defense system that would protect its friends in the Asia-Pacific region.