Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 229

Among the positive outcomes of the December 9 talks in Brussels between Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were assurances given by Moscow that Russia’s parliament would soon ratify the START II strategic arms treaty. According to Albright, Ivanov told her that the Russian parliament would likely ratify the treaty by the end of this month. U.S. officials, moreover, reportedly described Ivanov’s message to Albright as one of the most promising to come out of Moscow in recent years on the subject of nuclear disarmament (Washington Post, December 10; International agencies, December 9). It was at least in part on that basis, presumably, that Albright made the decision to travel to Moscow next month to launch talks aimed at drafting a follow-up START III treaty which will mandate nuclear arms reductions beyond those contained in START II.

Ivanov’s assurances to Albright notwithstanding, however, there have been indications in Moscow this week that Russian lawmakers may in fact not yet be ready to move on START II ratification. On December 8, for example, the Russian Duma again postponed discussions which were to have been held on the treaty (see the Monitor, December 9). A day later, the chairman of the Duma’s Geopolitics Committee, Aleksei Mitrofanov, said that though Duma members are now closer to ratification than they were a year ago, lawmakers on the whole remain more inclined “to say no than to say yes” to the treaty. Mitrofanov’s committee is one of several responsible for the drafting of a new treaty ratification bill which many in Moscow thought would win quick approval by legislators (Itar-Tass, December 9).

Yesterday, moreover, lawmakers appeared to take a step back in their deliberations on the treaty. In hearings initiated by the Duma’s “Anti-NATO Group,” Russian lawmakers reportedly tied ratification of START II to both NATO enlargement and the Western alliance’s plans for reform. In a draft recommendation drawn up by lawmakers, START II ratification was made conditional on the establishment of international guarantees that NATO would not expand to the east and that the alliance would not act in a fashion threatening to Moscow.

Legislators who attended the hearings appeared also to tie ratification, at least indirectly, to the alliance’s policies toward Yugoslavia and the Kosovo crisis. They said that NATO activities in the Balkans represented “interference in the internal affairs” of the Yugoslav government. In that vein, lawmakers recommended that the Russian government consider offering military aid to Yugoslavia and terminating Russian cooperation with NATO–under the aegis of both the Partnership for Peace program and the NATO-Russian Founding Act (Russian agencies, December 10).

It is unclear whether yesterday’s hearings represented a new hardening in the position of most Russian lawmakers on START II, or whether they were simply an exercise in eleventh-hour political posturing by disgruntled hardliners. But the rhetoric heard yesterday–and especially the linkage of START II ratification to a grab-bag of other foreign policy issues–is reminiscent of the manner in which Russian lawmakers have stonewalled ratification to date. It also suggests that treaty ratification may in fact not yet be a done deal, and that the Russian government will have to step up its lobbying efforts to ensure that ratification comes to pass. Indeed, Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov warned legislators on December 9 not to link treaty ratification to discussions of the 1999 state budget, a development which would certainly complicate efforts to win approval for the treaty (Itar-Tass, December 9).