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Russia: Communist Leader Decries Arms-Reduction Agreement As 'National Treason'

  • Francesca Mereu

In Moscow yesterday, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov criticized the arms-reduction deal to be signed by the United States and Russia at the 23-26 May presidential summit as "large-scale national treason." Zyuganov -- who last month saw his party almost entirely sidelined from parliamentary politics -- also vowed to initiate a vote of no confidence in the government at the end of the month.

Moscow, 17 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov yesterday invited foreign journalists to hear his views on the new arms-reduction agreement likely to be signed by the U.S. and Russian presidents during a summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg from 23-26 May. It is a topic -- like the Kremlin's increasingly pro-Western posture -- about which he has little positive to say.

Zyuganov sain that in preparing to sign next week's agreement on reducing Russia's nuclear arsenal from some 6,000 warheads to between 1,700 and 2,000, the Kremlin is committing "national treason."

"I'm talking about [U.S. President George W.] Bush's visit to our country and about the new arms-reduction treaty. We don't consider it a real agreement on arms cuts, but the total destruction of our nuclear arsenal. Two generations of our fellow countrymen spent a third of the national budget to build it," Zyuganov said.

Zyuganov said, should the agreement be signed at next week's presidential summit in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Communist Party will initiate a no-confidence motion against the government by the end of the month.

But the Communist leader may not be able to deliver on his threat. The Communists and their allies control only about 100 of the 450 seats in Russia's Duma, or lower house of parliament. The Duma is dominated by pro-Kremlin factions, and without a majority, the Communists will not be able to push through a motion of no confidence.

Last year, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin pledged to cut their respective nuclear arsenals. After months of negotiations, officials this week hammered out the details of an agreement that both sides agreed could be signed at next week's summit. But the agreement, which is only three pages long and includes no specific timetable or verification procedures, has come under criticism from many observers, including Zyuganov, who called it a non-agreement.

"It is a short agreement. In earlier agreements, [eventual] problems [and] verification measures were carefully and competently analyzed. In this agreement, there aren't any guarantees regarding verification. Putin will be forced to cut our warheads. [The Americans] are just dictating their conditions. They will put [their warheads] in a new storage room and when they need them they'll put them on their launchers again. This is not an agreement," Zyuganov said.

Moreover, Zyuganov said, U.S. plans to build a missile-defense system could eliminate the effectiveness of Russia's remaining smaller missiles, thus weakening the country's defense capabilities even further.

The Communist leader also said he opposes Putin's decision to welcome the deployment of U.S. troops in Georgia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, and the withdrawal of Soviet-era military bases in Cuba and Vietnam. Zyuganov said the decisions amount to the total destruction of Russia's strategic and military potential.

Asked about Putin's friendly relations with the West, Zyuganov -- who in the past month has seen his Communist Party largely sidelined from parliamentary proceedings -- said the stance of the Russian president was only succeeding in fostering anti-American sentiment in Russia.

"This is not a pro-Western policy, this is an anti-Western policy. Only during the Cold War did we have such an anti-American mood in the country. According to the latest polls, the anti-American mood has increased by some 16 to 18 percent. Look at the mood of the citizens. What we propose is a 'good-neighbor' policy: a policy that reflects the interest of our citizens and not the interest of the oligarchs. We are for good relation with the U.S. and for good and long relations with all of our neighbors. It is in our interest. But now we are being pushed toward a confrontation with the Islamic world and with China. This is a policy that takes you nowhere," Zyuganov said.

According to a recent poll by the VTsIOM Russian public-opinion center, 8 percent of Russians think next week's summit will bring negative results for Russia. Thirty-six percent of respondents anticipate positive results, and 39 percent expect no significant results at all. In addition, 37 percent of Russians see U.S.-Russia relations as "good and calm," while 28 percent see them as "cold."