The Kremlin remained uncertain about whether US President, Barack Obama, would manage to push through the lame-duck Senate session the ratification of the new START III. There was fear in Moscow that if the arms treaty was postponed until the spring of 2011, the new Senate with a reduced Democratic majority may never ratify it. START III allows both the US and Russia to have 700 deployed strategic delivery systems – intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM’s) and long-range strategic bombers. But, Russia today already has only 500 to 550 strategic delivery systems left and in the future may have even less, as its Cold War arsenal has deteriorated while its dilapidated defense industry has failed to produce enough replacements (Vedomosti, December 24). The treaty was seen as vitally important as a means to ensure the US also reduces its nuclear capabilities and a credible balance of deterrence is maintained that must guarantee the West shall not have any chance to sway Russia’s internal politics or its relations with its neighbors.
President Dmitry Medvedev applauded Obama’s lobbying efforts. Medvedev told journalists: “Really, that a boy! Obama kept his word and pressed through the START ratification in complicated circumstances.” After its ratification Obama traveled to Hawaii for Christmas, while Medvedev cracked a joke, mimicking the macho style of Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin: “I told him – Barack go rest! [Barack, otdikhai]” (www.kremlin.ru, December 24). In Russian “otdikhai” also means – “get lost.”
The Russian parliament did not follow the US Senate in ratifying START III immediately before the long New Year and Orthodox Christmas recess that will last until January 11. Before the New Year the Duma voted preliminarily for ratification, and in January it will consider possible amendments. The US Senate passed two nonbinding resolutions together with the ratified treaty that requires spending $85 billion during the next ten years to modernize the US nuclear arsenal and pledged the continued unrestricted development of ballistic missile defense (BMD). In response, the Duma will similarly add a separate resolution that will most likely call for the deployment of new ICBM’s and reinstate the previous Russian position that START III will be abrogated, if the US develops a robust global BMD (Kommersant, December 24).
The threat to abrogate the treaty is not serious: it does not require Russia to dismantle any deployed weapons – only formally scrap old dysfunctional Cold War residues, while containing the US arsenal. START III will last ten years and it is physically impossible for the US to build and deploy a truly robust global BMD before it ends. Moreover, any nation has the sovereign right to abrogate an international treaty after a short waiting period. Eventual ratification by the Duma and the Federation Council by the end of January is assured: the Russian parliament is a Soviet-style rubber stamp entity that will vote for anything the Kremlin wants. But the ratification will not lead to further cuts of tactical or strategic nuclear weapons. New delivery systems are deployed: including Iskander ballistic missiles with a reported range of 500 kilometers. Iskanders have been deployed in two operational commands (military districts) South (facing the Caucasus) and West (facing NATO). Iskanders will be eventually deployed in the other two operational commands – Central and East (RIA Novosti, October 14, December 14).
The ratification of START III seems to have removed restraints on internal political repression in Russia. A shameful court decision was announced adding six more years to the previous eight year prison sentence of former oil tycoons Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev who have been in detention since 2003. Khodorkovsky is a personal and political opponent of Putin and has been sentenced to stay behind bars until 2017 on trumped up, politically motivated charges (EDM, January 3). The reading of the grotesque sentence was initially planned for December 15, but later postponed without explanation: awaiting the end on the lame-duck Senate session, when it could not have affected the ratification vote.
On December 31, former governor of Nizhny-Novgorod region, former deputy prime minister and prominent opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was arrested for allegedly “disobeying police” and later sentenced to 15 days in prison on faulty evidence. After his arrest, Nemtsov was held in a cell without a bed for two days and forced to stand for four hours during his trial. Some 70 other people were arrested in Moscow on December 31 and several pro-democracy activists were sentenced to five and fifteen days in kangaroo courts in Moscow. This week, up to 40 pro-democracy activists that have been publicly protesting against the arrests in Moscow have been illegally detained and harassed by anti-riot OMON police (Interfax, January 2; RIA Novosti, January 5).
During a briefing in Washington, the US Assistant Secretary of State, Philip Crowley, said he “regretted” the arrests of people exercising rights “enshrined in the Russian constitution.” Deputy Chairman of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, Alexander Kozlovsky, told journalists that Crowley’s statement proved Nemtsov was a “provocateur, who coordinated his actions with the US authorities” (Interfax, January 4). Medvedev may have been serious, when he advised Obama to “get lost” after the ratification of START III.
As political repression mounts in Moscow, a sign of approval came from the US and was received with gratitude. On his last day in office, California Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, tweeted Medvedev saying that he was anxious to meet again and suggested they go skiing. Medvedev tweeted in response that he “remembered the agreement” and would “definitely find the time” (Interfax, January 4).