Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 209

Russian government leaders reportedly made a strong pitch yesterday for parliamentary ratification of the START II arms reduction treaty. It was unclear, however, whether the government’s entreaties had moved reluctant lawmakers to take quick action on the issue. The START II Treaty–which cuts the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the United States to no more than 3,500 warheads each–was signed in 1993 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996. But, despite repeated pleas from Washington and from the Russian government itself, the Russian State Duma has shown little willingness to ratify the pact. Lawmakers have cited a host of reasons for their reluctance. These include concerns over U.S. observance of the ABM treaty, NATO’s enlargement plans, and, at various times, U.S. threats to launch airstrikes against Iraq or Yugoslavia.

Yesterday’s action came during closed parliamentary hearings on the treaty which were addressed by both First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov. Reports out of Moscow suggested that the pleas for ratification put forward by the two men included the argument that approval of START II would aid the government’s effort to win financial assistance from abroad. “There was no direct link” made between ratification and Western aid, according to one Russian Duma member, “but many lawmakers made exactly that conclusion from the way it was presented.” Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Duma’s International Affairs Committee, told reporters after the hearings that Maslyukov had pushed for START ratification to “create a political environment” in which Russia might be rescued from its economic woes (AP, Reuters, November 10). Primakov is set to meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton next week in Malaysia. The question of IMF credits to Russia is likely to be on their discussion agenda.

Primakov’s and Maslyukov’s appearances before the lawmakers apparently had some effect. Afterward the Duma Council instructed the committees on defense, security, international affairs and geopolitics both to consider ratification of the treaty within ten days and to submit their recommendations. The issue, according to Duma First Deputy Speaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, will be considered by the full Duma in December (Itar-Tass, November 10).

News sources suggested yesterday, however, that lawmakers remained, on the whole, unconvinced by the government’s arguments for Start II ratification. Opposition during the hearings was reportedly expressed most forcefully by Albert Makashov, the ultra-nationalist former general who has been the object of much criticism lately for his anti-Semitic remarks. Ryzhkov, moreover, was quoted as saying that the majority of factions in the Duma are still not ready to support START II ratification. He suggested that the lawmakers wanted, among other things, a more detailed government study of the financial and economic consequences of START II ratification (Itar-Tass, November 10).