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No 9
January 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
The deputies of the State Duma defense committee came out against the ratification of the Russian-US Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty submitted by president Vladimir Putin. This event became the first political sensation in the State Duma's work in the new year. The process, which the Kremlin considered a purely formal event, may become a personal challenge to the head of the Russian state, who considers the signing of Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty one of the successes of Russian diplomacy in the field of strengthening international security.

"Today, the two main drafts of the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty are being examined," Vladimir Volkov, deputy head of the State Duma defense committee, told Izvestia. "The first one, presidential, consists of two articles. The second one, prepared by the deputies, consists of nine articles. Two articles in either variant of the draft law are identical. These are the articles that deal with the need "to ratify the treaty" and that "the law comes into force as of its publication". The difference lies in the fact that the Duma draft law insists on the need to preserve the potential of strategic nuclear forces at the level needed to ensure the security of Russia, their priority financing, the reduction of the strategic offensive arms covered by the treaty with due account taken of the maximal possible terms of their exploitation. It also defines the obligations of the president, the executive and legislative branches of authority to inform each other about the course of the implementation of the treaty and the law on its ratification.

Apart from that, the amendments provide for a considerable list of exclusive circumstances under which Russia would have the right to withdraw from the treaty. In the deputies' opinion, the main ones of them might be the deployment of a national missile defense system by the USA or building up strategic offensive arms by other states that are not parties to the treaty so that this poses a threat to the security of Russia.

In experts' opinion, the deputies are right in the desire to give the treaty a more specific framework, fill it with real obligations. At the same time, experts say, the document was designed to lower the level of the negative consequences of the withdrawal by the USA from the 1972 ABM Treaty and is needed first of all by Moscow, which wants at least to somehow constrain Washington with regard to building up an additional nuclear potential.

As a result, the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty, except for mutual reduction of nuclear warheads deployed on strategic missiles and other delivery vehicles to the level of 1,700-2,200 warheads, does not oblige the sides to anything. "Deployed" in this case is a key word because it limits the number of nuclear warheads on delivery vehicles: ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, nuclear submarines. Either side has its hands free in the issue of dealing with dismantled nuclear warheads. "It's up to you whether to eliminate or keep them," says Washington. The warheads that remain on delivery vehicles would be quite enough to destroy each other many times (according to some data, Russia, even without reducing strategic offensive arms, has in operational use less nuclear warheads than allowed by the treaty).

"We will see to it that ratification goes simultaneously on both sides," State Duma international affairs committee head Dmitry Rogozin said on Monday. In his words, "the US Senate should demonstrate the dynamics of work on the respective bill - we must see that this document draws as much attention in Washington as in Moscow".

Experts say that the ratification of the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty is advantageous to Russia even in such a "unspecific form". Say, under the START-2 treaty, which was never ratified by the US Congress, Moscow was to shift the bulk of nuclear weapons from land to sea. Considering that in Russia the ground-based group of strategic nuclear weapons was traditionally the most numerous and powerful one, as distinct from the USA, which relies on the sea-based group, it is easy to imagine how much a new round of the arms race to even the nuclear potentials out would have cost the country. The Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty does not require anything of this kind from the sides, leaving either state the right to decide on its own where and on what delivery vehicles (single-warhead or multiple-warhead) to keep its nuclear arsenal and in what amount.

"It is hard for me to comment on the situation that has arisen in the State Duma concerning the ratification of the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty because it is not clear what had prompted the deputies to make this decision," Yevgeny Myasnikov, leading researcher of the Center for the Study of the Problems of Disarmament, Power Engineering and Ecology under the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute, told Izvestia. "I doubt that this is a serious strategic gamble, rather, these are tactical maneuvers on the eve of elections," believes the expert.

Dmitry Rogozin's words that "apparently, the next meeting of the working group on the preparation the draft law on the ratification of the treaty will be held this week to examine the foreign ministry's proposals on the content of the draft law on ratification" also prove that what is happening is nothing more than just "maneuvers". In connection with this, the deputy stressed that an agreement had already been reached that the draft law, compared to the initial variant, will be somewhat expanded and the exclusive conditions of Russia's withdrawal from the treaty will be specified in it". The foreign ministry is also sure of success. The Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty, says the statement circulated by the Russian foreign-policy department, may be ratified by the Russian and US parliaments as early as the spring of this year.

"It is not enough to ratify the treaty as it is, we must necessarily specify some conditions of our own", insists deputy Volkov. "A supplement specifying the document must be attached to it. No one doubts that the Strategic Offensive Arms Reduction Treaty will be ratified," the parliamentarian unexpectedly concluded .

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