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Maverick MP suggests Russia has "free hand" if USA abandons ABM Treaty

Moscow, 14 December: A heated debate preceded the State Duma's rejection on Friday [14 December] of moves to include a draft appeal to the US Congress on that country's administration's decision to pull out of the 1972 ABM Treaty.

While 226 votes are needed to have this decision passed, as few as 161 members voted for it in the first attempt and 174 in the second attempt.

Vadim Bulavinov, deputy head of the People's Deputy group, started the debate by calling on the associated Duma committee to consider the possibility of abrogating START-2 in response to the US decision.

Yabloko's Aleksey Arbatov said that an address to Congress had been drafted and suggested debating the draft. The draft expresses the Duma's dim view of the US pull-out from the treaty and warns of possible negative consequences of that move, he said. Because the United States will be preparing for the actual pull-out for six months, Congress will actively debate that issue, so it is important that "our opinion be present in that debate", he said.

Yabloko's deputy chairman of the Duma Vladimir Lukin supported this view. The Duma's support is very important for the Russian president's position, he said. The president had described the US intention as a mistake.

The Duma can express its view in less diplomatic terms than those used by the president and influence in this way the position of Congress, Lukin said.

The Duma's ratification of START-2 last year was a wrong step, because "we were cheated", Yuriy Nikiforenko, a communist, said. Speaker of the State Duma Gennadiy Seleznev responded by saying that neither the previous nor the new US president had sent START-2 to the Senate.

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskiy called on the Defence and International Affairs Committees to give up the idea of passing a statement on this issue. "We need not be subservient to certain Foreign Ministry bureaucrats," he said. Russian defence experts, rather than members of parliament, should be speaking on this issue, he said.

Duma members insisting on passing a statement are acting rashly because US President George W. Bush's announcement plays into Russia's hands, Zhirinovskiy said. "We now have a free hand and are under no commitment to destroy our missiles," he said. In effect, it is we who have cheated them, he said.

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