Two days after Russia’s parliamentary election, arms control issues yesterday were once again front-and-center in Russian-U.S. relations. Developments yesterday occurred on three fronts: in a fresh effort by the Russian government to win parliamentary approval of the START II strategic arms reduction treaty, in the start of a new round of Russian-U.S. strategic arms control talks, and in a not unexpected warning from the Russian Defense Ministry that it will continue to insist on full U.S. adherence to the 1972 ABM treaty. The maneuvering in Moscow yesterday suggested that, while the election of a new and potentially more cooperative Russian Duma could jumpstart stagnating Russian-U.S. arms control negotiations, the December 19 election results offer little reason to believe that longstanding differences between the two countries on key issues will suddenly be resolved. Those differences center in particular on U.S. plans to pursue deployment of a limited national missile defense and Washington’s related and thus far unsuccessful efforts to win Russian agreement to changes in the ABM treaty.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, basking in the glow of what he undoubtedly believes to have been his own election victory in this week’s parliamentary elections, appeared yesterday to try to capitalize on his political success by renewing the government’s push for ratification of the START II treaty by Russian lawmakers. Putin used a meeting with leaders of the parties just elected to the new Duma to lobby for the old parliament to take up the ratification issue before its term of service expires at the end of this month.
But Putin’s suggestion that there is now a chance for quick ratification of the START II treaty was quickly contradicted by two top communists: KPRF party leader Gennady Zyuganov and outgoing Duma speaker Gennady Seleznev. In a radio interview Zyuganov said that lawmakers would not consider the START II accord in December. “The outgoing Duma cannot in its final days examine this problem,” he said. According to Zyuganov, the United States plans to exit from the ABM treaty in the near future and, for that reason, Russians “must answer the question of our security–then they will be listening to us in the United States” (Reuters, UPI, Russian agencies, December 21; Washington Post, December 22).
The KPRF rebuff yesterday suggested that the government’s latest surprise attempt to ram the START II treaty through is likely to meet the same fate as a similar effort which took place earlier this month. On December 8 there were reports that, at the urging of Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, Russian lawmakers were preparing to discuss the START II accord during a special parliamentary session scheduled for December 13. The treaty never made it to the Duma floor on that day, however, because leaders of the communist-dominated body decided against putting it on the agenda. At least one moderate Duma member, International Affairs Committee chairman Vladimir Lukin, suggested that the Duma action had tarnished Russia’s international reputation and cost it a chance to profit diplomatically at Washington’s expense. “The Duma Communists have done everything to make Russia share the blame with the United States for disrupting the nuclear disarmament process,” he was quoted as saying (Reuters, December 13).
U.S. EFFORT TO AMEND ABM TREATY STILL A STUMBLING BLOCK FOR RUSSIANS.