Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 8

?After some seven years of inaction, Russia’s parliament at long last appeared ready at the close of this past fortnight to move forward on ratification of the 1993 START II strategic arms reduction treaty. The lower house of parliament–the State Duma–was scheduled to hold its first debate on the treaty on April 14, and many observers were predicting that the debate would be followed by a quick and successful ratification vote. The optimism was based on the fact that Russia’s Communist and nationalist parties had emerged weakened from last December’s parliamentary election, and could no longer muster the votes needed to block the treaty. The treaty would still need to be approved by the Russian Federation Council and by President-elect Vladimir Putin, but that was expected to be a mere formality. Putin had pushed hard for the treaty, and observers suggested that he wanted a successful Duma vote in place by the time he made a planned visit to Britain on April 16-17. The Kremlin was reportedly also hoping to have completed the full ratification process in time for Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s scheduled April 24 visit to Washington. That might help pave the way for a Russian-U.S. summit later this year and for renewed progress in arms control negotiations between the two countries.

But despite the salutary effect that START II ratification might have on Russian-U.S. ties, the past fortnight was especially noteworthy for the focus it put on relations between Moscow and the governments of Western Europe. Putin and other top Russian officials have said pointedly on a number of occasions in recent weeks that they see Russia as a part of Europe. In that same connection they have also strongly intimated that improved ties between Russia and Europe will be one of the foreign policy priorities of the new Putin government.