Russian Lawmakers Begin Endorsing New START

(Jan. 3) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 poses inside a Russian nuclear-capable SU-34 strategic bomber. The Russian State Duma last month gave initial approval of a new nuclear weapons treaty with the United States (Dmitry Astakhov/Getty Images).
(Jan. 3) -Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2009 poses inside a Russian nuclear-capable SU-34 strategic bomber. The Russian State Duma last month gave initial approval of a new nuclear weapons treaty with the United States (Dmitry Astakhov/Getty Images).

Russia's State Duma on December 24 offered preliminary endorsement of a new nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, but lawmakers in Moscow indicated they were unlikely to rapidly finalize approval of the pact, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2010).

The lower chamber of Russia's parliament voted 350-58 in support of the New START treaty.

However, amendments the U.S. Senate made to its New START ratification document would delay the next of three mandatory Russian votes on the pact until this month or later, State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said. The Seante voted on December 22 to ratify the treaty.

"These issues have to be studied very carefully," Kosachyov said ahead of the first Russian vote. "And that takes time."

President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed New START in April. The pact would require Russia and the United States to cap their deployed strategic nuclear warheads at 1,550, down from a limit of 2,200 required by 2012 under an earlier treaty. It also would set a ceiling of 700 deployed warhead delivery systems, with another 100 allowed in reserve.

"Common sense" prevented the inclusion of language undercutting critical elements of the treaty, but Moscow was "absolutely not in agreement" with an amendment to the U.S. ratification text that defends Washington's plans to deploy missile shield elements in Europe, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said (see GSN, Dec. 22, 2010).

"This is an arbitrary interpretation of the principles of international law. The agreement, like any other, is a single whole," Lavrov said.

Urging lawmakers to support the agreement, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov emphasized the pact's sole focus on reducing strategic nuclear stocks, an area in which the United States now holds an numeric advantage.

"We will not have to make any cuts to our strategic offensive weapons," Serdyukov told communist opponents of the deal. "These will be removed from service only when the time comes to decommission them."

Conversely, Russia maintains several times the number of tactical nuclear weapons deployed in Europe by the United States. Another amendment to the U.S. Senate's ratification text presses Obama to within one year launch negotiations with Russia aimed at curbing the battlefield bombs.

Much like their counterparts in Washington, members of Russia's parliament were expected to submit additions to the ratification document. The defense minister called on them to address U.S. missile defense plans, which Moscow says could threaten Russian strategic security and could lead the nation to withdraw from the nuclear pact.

"We think it essential that the State Duma adopt a declaration confirming the importance of the link between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms," Serdyukov said (Dmitry Zaks, Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 23, 2010).

The Obama administration intends to "carry out the requirements of the [U.S. ratification] resolution by seeking to initiate negotiations with Russia on tactical nukes within one year of New START's entry into force,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said following the Senate's approval of the ratification text.

The endorsement by GOP senators for further nuclear talks with Russia could benefit the Obama administration's arms control goals, Union of Concerned Scientists senior analyst Stephen Young told the New York Times. “The good news is, with Senate approval of New START, the administration achieved the essential precondition to getting Russia to consider reductions in tactical nuclear forces,” Young said.

“In the 21st century, there is no plausible military, political or deterrent justification for the Russian government to deploy several thousand such weapons,” said Frank Miller, a former national security staffer for the George W. Bush administration.

Still, Moscow could demand U.S. concessions on missile defense or nondeployed strategic forces in exchange for reductions to its tactical nuclear stockpile, other observers said.

Washington and Moscow should negotiate a ceiling on their total nuclear weapons holdings, possibly allowing each side to retain 2,500 weapons and to determine their own configurations of strategic and nonstrategic armaments, former State Department arms control official Steven Pifer said (Peter Baker, New York Times, Dec. 24, 2010).

The U.S. negotiator for New START, though, last month suggested any agreement on battlefield nuclear weapons would take time, the Washington Post reported.

"I don't want anybody to think, you know ... (we) dive right in when January rolls around, because we do have some homework to do in that regard, and I'm sure the Russians do as well," Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said. "Any big negotiation takes preparatory work and some careful consideration."

"Anybody who's followed this over the years knows that the Russian Federation has had a kind of - well, clear conditionality for beginning negotiations on tac nukes, and that is that NATO should bring all of the nuclear weapons deployed in NATO -- on NATO territory in Europe -- back to the continental United States before Russia -- and this is a long-standing conditionality, was from Soviet times -- before they would consider beginning talks in this arena," she said (Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Dec. 27, 2010).

Meanwhile, Washington would seek to involve Russia in U.S. and NATO plans to establish a unified antimissile system, the Times quoted Vietor as saying (see GSN, Dec. 17, 2010). “We have a robust schedule of consultations on missile defense cooperation with Russia planned for the early part of the new year,” the White House spokesman said (Baker, Times).

January 7, 2011
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Russia's State Duma on December 24 offered preliminary endorsement of a new nuclear arms control treaty with the United States, but lawmakers in Moscow indicated they were unlikely to rapidly finalize approval of the pact, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Dec. 23, 2010).

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