Yesterday was a busy day on the arms control front, as Russia appeared to take some steps toward at last ratifying the START II strategic arms treaty while the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to move forward on the development of a missile defense system. Yesterday’s developments in Moscow in particular come, not coincidentally, only days before Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov heads to Washington for talks with U.S. government and International Monetary Fund (IMF) leaders. Primakov will be seeking, among other things, Washington’s support for Moscow’s efforts to win a refinancing of its US$4.8 billion debt to the IMF. Government officials in Moscow have frequently suggested that the Russian State Duma’s continued failure to ratify the START II treaty has hurt Russia’s efforts to win debt relief from the West.
Hopes that Russian ratification of START II might be forthcoming have repeatedly been dashed in the past. Yesterday’s developments, however, were distinguished by the fact that a broad array of Russian government, military and parliamentary leaders appeared to climb aboard the ratification bandwagon. Primakov, who has long argued in favor of START II, appealed yet again to lawmakers to ratify the 1993 treaty. Russian parliamentary leaders, meanwhile, said yesterday that they will request formally that Russian President Boris Yeltsin start the ratification process by reviewing and approving a START II ratification bill. Once that occurs, the bill will be returned to the State Duma for formal debates which, according to some parliamentary leaders, could lead to a quick ratification of the document (Reuters, AP, International Herald Tribune, Russian agencies, March 16).
But a number of question remarks remain. The ratification bill now being considered is one which the State Duma itself drafted as a substitute for an earlier bill which the Kremlin submitted, unsuccessfully, to the parliament. The bill under review makes ratification and observance of START II contingent on several conditions, some of which the Kremlin (or, further down the road, the United States) may find objectionable. According to the Russian president’s foreign policy aide, Sergei Prikhodko, Boris Yeltsin will have the ratification bill reviewed by the Defense and Foreign Ministries, as well as by the Foreign Intelligence Service. “In a very short time” Yeltsin will then, according to Prikhodko, return the bill to the Duma for debate. He intimated that ratification could even come before Primakov’s departure for Washington on March 23 (Russian agencies, March 16).
Review of the Duma ratification bill by the ministries listed above should be in large part a formality. Representatives of those agencies were reportedly involved in drafting the bill, which the lower house’s Defense, International Affairs, Geopolitics and Security Committees undertook. Yesterday the communist speaker of the Russian Duma, Gennady Seleznev, offered a more conservative estimate of the speed at which the ratification process was likely to proceed: Duma deliberations might begin before Primakov’s departure for Washington (Itar-Tass, March 16).
START II RATIFICATION LONG A CONTENTIOUS ISSUE.