HOW STRONG IS RUSSIA’S ARMS CONTROL CARD?
Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 4
Among those weighing in yesterday on the enlargement issue was Sergei Shakhrai (see below for Shakhrai’s linkage of Russia’s relations with Belarus to NATO enlargement). Yeltsin’s deputy chief of staff repeated earlier Russian threats that Moscow will consider abandoning a number of recent arms control initiatives should NATO expand into Eastern and Central Europe. Shakhrai listed the 1992 Open Skies agreement, which would permit foreign surveillance flights over the territories of signatory states, and the modified "flanks" restrictions on Russia under the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty as two commitments that would become "pointless" following NATO’s enlargement. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus all must ratify the Open Skies treaty for it to enter into effect. (Itar-Tass, January 6) The Ukrainian Rada has twice turned the agreement down, but would probably have a change of heart should the Russians ratify it, and Belarus is also likely to follow the Russian lead. Yet the treaty has always been of more symbolic than operational importance and the inspections specified by the treaty have lost much of their glitter in recent years. Likewise, the Russian military’s financial crisis has largely replaced the CFE Treaty as the main driving force in the downsizing of Russia’s armed forces in Europe.
There is, moreover, no doubt that the START-II strategic nuclear arms reduction treaty is in trouble in the Russian parliament. But even the Russian military has come to realize that Russia might end up at a greater disadvantage vis-à-vis the U.S. without the treaty than with it. Economics will force Russia to make many of the cuts mandated by the treaty regardless of its ratification status. Many Russians are concerned about the START-II provision that would eventually ban all multi-warhead land-based strategic missiles–a perceived Russian strength–and Shakhrai specifically mentioned that Russia might refuse to give up its huge SS-18 missiles. Yet the first of these giant but aging missiles was deployed more than 20 years ago, and all are reaching the end of their service life. They were built in Ukraine and could not economically be replaced. Keeping the more modern multi-warhead SS-24 missiles, some based on railway cars and others in silos, would be a more realistic threat, but these form a relatively small part of the Russian strategic arsenal.
More Kremlin In-Fighting over Military Reform.