Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 237

Vladimir Lukin’s remarks underscored the argument being used by government leaders to try to win ratification of the START II ratification earlier this year. This same line of thinking is likely to remain the government’s main argument in the future as it lobbies the new Russian Duma to ratify START II. It involves the claim that Russian ratification of START II will raise Moscow’s international standing–as a defender of strategic arms reduction efforts–while simultaneously underscoring the danger that current U.S. arms policies allegedly present to world peace and stability. In other words, the Russian government believes that START II ratification will not only strengthen Russia’s security (a position taken by the military leadership), but that it will provide a useful contrast on the world stage to U.S. missile defense plans, to Washington’s efforts to amend the ABM treaty, and to the U.S. Senate’s rejection earlier this year of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. All of those policies have drawn sharp criticism from abroad, and the ABM-missile defense issues have introduced particularly sharp tensions even between Washington and its NATO allies. Russian diplomats have also argued, as Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov did yet again on December 19, that delays in Russia’s ratification of the START II accord “play into the hands of those groups in the West, above all in the United States, pushing for the deployment of a national antimissile defense system in that country” (Russian agencies, December 19). It probably goes without saying that Moscow would also like to focus world attention on unpopular U.S. policies in order to deflect attention away from its own bloody war in Chechnya.

That military hardliners remain adamantly opposed to U.S. calls for changes to the ABM treaty in the wake of Sunday’s election was made clear yesterday in remarks by the most hardline military leader of all–Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Main International Military Cooperation Administration. Ivashov is believed to be a part of the clique of Russian generals behind the military leadership’s belligerent policies earlier this year in Kosovo (in particular, its surprise dispatch of paratroopers to Pristina), as well as its more confrontational attitude toward the West and its brutal conduct of the war in Chechnya. In his remarks yesterday, Ivashov reiterated Moscow’s opposition to U.S. efforts to amend the ABM accord. He also charged that a U.S. exit from the ABM accord would “underscore that the Americans are trying to break the system of international principles, norms and obligations” that has been put in place since the Second World War. He also repeated Russian warnings that Moscow would take adequate military measures to counter any U.S. withdrawal from the ABM accord (Russian agencies, December 21).

Ivashov’s remarks yesterday were nothing new. But the fact that he chose to make them as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott arrived in Moscow for two days of arms control talks seemed only to underscore the fact that Russia’s parliamentary election results are unlikely to herald any immediate improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington. A series of arms control negotiations sessions–some involving Talbott–have already taken place this year on the subject of the ABM treaty, U.S. missile defense plans, and a possible follow-up START III treaty. To date, the talks appear to have yielded no significant results whatsoever. Talbott’s current visit appears to have been hastily arranged, and is probably aimed both at making a quick assessment of the import of Sunday’s election and at getting the Russian-U.S. arms control talks untracked (Russian agencies, December 21). In the weeks leading up the election, Russian leaders, including Putin, outdid themselves criticizing the United States and the West. Talbott should find out quickly whether the post election period will bring any prospect of a rhetorical ceasefire from Moscow.