Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 43

Ratification of the START II strategic arms treaty was in the headlines once again yesterday, as the council of the Russian State Duma rejected a motion which would have put consideration of the treaty on the Duma’s March 5 agenda. The proposal to consider the treaty was made–in an apparently unexpected about-face–by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalist Liberal Democratic (LDPR) faction. Roman Popkovich, head of the Duma’s Defense Committee, said that the LDPR motion had received virtually no support on the Duma Council. He also described the LDPR move as a “provocation,” one which was designed, he suggested, not to advance the treaty’s chances but “to demolish the law on ratification entirely.” The Duma Council decided instead to refer the treaty ratification law for further consideration to four parliamentary committees–on defense, security, international affairs and geopolitics. No date was set for these committees to complete their work (Russian agencies, March 2).

The LDPR had previously been among the Russian factions most vociferously opposed to ratifying the START II treaty. Like a number of other groups across Russia’s political spectrum, LDPR had held ratification hostage to a host of domestic and, especially, international issues. Those have included, at various times, NATO’s enlargement plans, as well as U.S. and NATO threats to launch strikes on Iraq and Yugoslavia. U.S. and British air strikes on Iraq late last year provoked a furious reaction in Moscow and appeared to ensure that the chances for ratification, which were already slim, had disappeared entirely for the foreseeable future. Washington’s recent decision to move forward on the development of a missile defense system, and its calls for revisions of the 1972 ABM treaty, have only stiffened Russian resistance to START II.

It was no surprise, therefore, that Popkovich and others were taken aback by the LDPR’s latest move. Popkovich was one of several Duma leaders who took the lead last year in drafting a new START II ratification bill which treaty proponents hoped might make ratification possible at last. That is presumably the bill which the LDPR proposed be considered on March 5.

In remarks to the press, Aleksei Mitrofanov, an LDPR member who is also head of the Duma’s Geopolitics Committee, said that the LDPR had changed its position because it saw that the United States was likely to violate the ABM treaty. A failure by Russia to approve START II under those conditions, Mitrofanov said, would only further embolden Washington to challenge the ABM treaty. Moreover, he said, “the Americans have the money, they will deploy a national ABM [system], while our own missiles will be aging” (Russian agencies, March 2).

Zhirinovsky repeated the same arguments during an interview yesterday on Russian television. The mercurial Russian politician also called on Russia and the United States to go beyond START II and to negotiate for full and complete nuclear disarmament (NTV, March 2). That last proposal is likely to fan suspicions even further that the LDPR’s motives in urging START II ratification are anything but sincere.