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Russia: Duma Fails To Ratify START II

Moscow, 18 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry came to Moscow this week hoping to persuade the Russian State Duma to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty. He failed.

The treaty was signed almost four years ago by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and U.S. President George Bush. It was ratified by the U.S. Senate last January. The ratification by the Duma is needed for the pact to take force.

START II would ban all land-based nuclear weapons with multiple war-heads and reduce the nuclear arsenals of both countries by more than half, to between 3,000 and 3,500 on each side by 2003.

Perry was told two days ago by Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov that he supported ratification. But yesterday Duma deputies told Perry that they were doubtful about the pact. Some of them expressed outright hostility.

Perry argued that ratification of the treaty was in the interest of both Russia and the United States. He told the deputies that: "I believe START II is fair and gives neither side an advantage. Both of us know that fewer nuclear weapons in the world makes us all safer."

Armed with charts in Russian, the U.S. Defense Secretary told the Russian legislators that the implementation of START II would be economically advantageous to both Russia and the United States, cutting the high cost of maintaining huge nuclear arsenals.

But Duma deputies were suspicious. Several contended that the treaty would be beneficial to Washington rather than to Moscow. They said START II would require Russia to embark on an expensive program to eliminate its multiple-warhead missiles now dominating its nuclear arsenal and force it build anew single-war-head missiles allowed under the agreement. The United States has already provided some 750 million dollars to help Russia dismantle some of its nuclear arsenal as called for by START II.

Nearly all legislators linked their opposition to START II to NATO's plans to expand eastward. The head of the Duma's defense committee, Lev Rokhlin, a member of the pro-government Our Home is Russia bloc, told Interfax that anxiety about NATO's expansion plans was seriously undermining support for ratification of START II.

Rokhlin said that START II should be put aside and negotiations should begin on a new treaty, START III, to work out what he called more "equal" agreements.

The Duma's recent display of hostility to the treaty might threaten its demise. But Andrei Zobov, a Moscow-based analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told RFE/RL that he thinks there are still good chances that the Duma will ratify the pact eventually.

Zobov said some deputies made what he called "hysterical" statements at yesterday's debate, but they were probably a loud minority. He said the treaty has come under heavy criticism, but could be ratified if two things happen.

First, he says, the deadline for the implementation of the treaty should be extended to make it easier for Russia to act. Second, he says that Russia may need a pledge from NATO that it will not station nuclear weapons on the territory of new member states.

Before his trip to Moscow, Perry said he would not allow START II to influence NATO's decisions on enlargement in the East.

Perry's talks at the Duma were overshadowed by political developments elsewhere. Soon after the U. S. Secretary of Defense left the Duma, President Boris Yeltsin appeared on national television announcing the he was firing his national security chief, Aleksandr Lebed. This move put the issues of military policies further into doubt.