Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 92

The Indians have put the Russians in an awkward position at a delicate stage in the nuclear disarmament process. On the one hand, Moscow is inclined to support a traditional friend and a linchpin of its foreign policy in Asia. India is also a major customer of Russian arms. Those circumstances are likely to somewhat constrain criticism of India’s actions in Moscow. On the other hand, Russia recognizes the dangers inherent in nuclear weapons proliferation, particularly when it is so close to Russia’s own borders.

A second consideration doubles Moscow’s dilemma. That is, another of Russia’s key Asian allies–China–is seen by many observers to be the real reason for India’s decision to proceed with nuclear testing. (India’s defense minister proclaimed recently that China, and not Pakistan, is likely to emerge in the future as India’s “potential enemy number one.”) Pakistan is nevertheless likely to step up development of its nuclear weapons program in response to India’s testing. Such developments could thus leave Russia caught between two allies, with a potentially destabilizing nuclear arms race developing along its southern frontier.

Finally, talk of U.S. sanctions against India could once again complicate the State Duma’s deliberations on the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty–just as that body seems prepared at last to formally consider this issue. In a related development, Primakov warned that the pending U.S. congressional decision to impose sanctions on Russian companies suspected of providing missile technology to Iran would also impair the ratification process. Today, the Duma is expected to form a commission to recommend whether to hold hearings on START II. Yeltsin yesterday once again strongly supported the treaty (see below), as did Colonel General Vladimir Yakovlev–the chief of the Strategic Missile Troops. American sanctions or not, perhaps the Indian tests will prove to be the shock the legislators needed to finally ratify START II. (Russian media, May 12)