The chances for quick ratification by Russia’s parliament of the START II Treaty appeared to suffer a setback this week following a session in which Russia’s defense and foreign ministers attempted to sell the treaty to reluctant Duma leaders. The September 16 meeting, which was held at the General Staff, came one day after President Boris Yeltsin conferred with Defense Minister Igor Sergeev and ordered him, along with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, to lobby the parliamentarians for passage of the treaty. Sergeev emerged from the session with the legislators apparently in good spirits, telling reporters that the talks had gone well and suggesting that the Defense Ministry believes additional consultations will sway the Duma to approve the treaty. Air Force commander in chief Petr Deneikin spoke in similar terms. He indicated that the commander in chiefs of Russia’s other service branches will also meet with legislators to lay out the treaty’s benefits for Russia.
But leaders of the main opposition factions remained skeptical. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, told journalists that the meeting with the two ministers had provided some reason for approving the treaty, but he made clear that he needed to hear more. Zhirinovsky was also quoted as saying that the Duma should hold off on ratification until a "favorable moment," and he intimated that Russia should use its "powerful missile complex" as a bargaining chip to exact more concessions from the U.S.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was more categorical, saying that the ministers had not convinced him START II should be ratified. He also stated that more funding needed to be allocated for the maintenance of Russia’s nuclear arsenal and that it makes little sense to discuss reductions in the country’s nuclear forces at a time when, in his view, the Kremlin leadership has failed to clarify its plans for the future of the country’s general purpose forces. Finally, Zyuganov restated what has long been the Duma opposition’s most oft-heard justification for opposing the treat: namely, NATO’s enlargement. At a time when "NATO is on the offensive, when there is an imbalance of parity in all components [of armaments between NATO and Russia], and there is no national defense doctrine, it is hard to take a decision on START II," he said.
The leader of the liberal Yabloko faction, Grigory Yavlinsky, did speak out in favor of the treaty, saying that it should be ratified as quickly as possible. No vote on treaty ratification is scheduled. (AP, Russian agencies, September 16)
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