With hopes once again of getting the 1993 START-2 treaty ratified, President Boris Yeltsin yesterday presented supporting documents to the State Duma. Items of interest in those papers: first, a U.S./Russian protocol extending by five years the treaty’s destruction timetable, and, second, materials dealing with the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Despite Yeltsin’s continued appeals, parliament deputies have been largely unmoved to date. Many have seen the treaty as one of the few bargaining chips Moscow holds in its relationship with Washington. They have therefore held it hostage to every potential and real dispute — such as NATO expansion, Bosnia and Iraq.
Faced with the realities of a meager procurement budget and an aging missile force, the military has supported the treaty all along. Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeev and his successor as commander-in-chief of the Strategic Rocket Forces (SRF) have repeatedly reminded the deputies that Russia’s strategic nuclear shield was likely to fall either to or below the treaty’s levels even if the Duma failed to approve the pact. The treaty was necessary, they warned, to constrain U.S. nuclear forces. It was also, they said, the key to paving the way for a follow-on agreement, START-3, which they expect to bring about a rough parity between the two country’s strategic forces.
The supplementary agreements presented yesterday — particularly the protocol extending the destruction period — were designed to meet earlier Russian complaints about the treaty’s one-sided nature. Many believed that Russia had a comparative advantage in large, land-based strategic missiles with multiple warheads. They have thus balked at the START-2 provision to eventually do away with these weapons. Under the new schedule, the Russians can pare this force down to 1,200 warheads by the end of 2004 (including sixty-five giant SS-18 missiles, each with ten warheads) and not totally eliminate this class of weapon until the end of 2007. Sergeev has noted that this means the SRF will not have to prematurely retire any of these missiles.
The time might be ripe for the Duma to finally act, as there are no dramatic disagreements between the two countries at this time. Yeltsin wants the treaty approved to pave the way for a Moscow summit with President Clinton later this year. Yeltsin has named Yevgeny Primakov and Sergeev to represent him during the START-2 ratification debates. First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Chief of Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin will serve the same function with the ABM documents. Many influential Duma leaders are basically in favor of the treaty. Some of those who have opposed it for tactical reasons might be having second thoughts. Last week, Sergeev said that the Communist faction in the Duma — critics of the treaty — now looked at the problem "more sensibly." (Russian media, April 3-April 13)
Government Crisis Continues for Fourth Week.