Moscow, 12 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- What do Russia's mysterious anti-crisis plan and the START-Two arms reduction treaty have in common? Apparently a lot, according to the Russian government. At least that is what the Russian media are reporting today, following yesterday's State Duma session that was closed to the press.
Cabinet members reportedly gave deputies an overview of the state of Russia's economy and of its prospects for the future. The cabinet, led by Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, won the deputies' partial support for an anti-crisis program and a draft budget for next year -- something that previous governments were never able to achieve without a fight.
Government ministers also managed to produce some signs of activity on the long-stalled START-Two treaty with the United States.
Primakov recently called on parliamentary leaders to finally ratify the treaty -- and his ministers yesterday repeated the call, reportedly adding new economic reasons to military ones.
Deputies quoted by Russian news agencies said government ministers -- particularly First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov -- strongly lobbied for ratification of the treaty.
Accounts of the closed session provided by Duma members indicated that Maslyukov hinted that a quick ratification of START Two would help Moscow's quest for Western financial help, especially in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Maslyukov has so far failed to win the release of a much-needed $4.3 billion tranche of an IMF-led $22.6 billion package of loans. The IMF approved the package in the summer, but froze it when it appeared clear that Russia would not be able to meet obligations under the deal. IMF officials are waiting for Russia's draft 1999 budget to measure its commitment to stick to a tight economic policy.
Alexander Shokhin, leader of the centrist "Our Home Is Russia" faction said "there was no direct link" between the debate on the draft budget and START Two. But he added that "many lawmakers made exactly that conclusion from the way it was presented."
Russian newspapers came to the same conclusion. The daily "Segodnya" wrote today that good news on the progress of the ratification process would help Primakov's case for more financial aid in a coming meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton.
Primakov is scheduled to meet Clinton during an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum meeting in Kuala Lumpur next week.
START Two was signed in 1993, and the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1996. However, on the Russian side, Communists and nationalists dominating the Duma have so far resisted ratification. They claim that trimming strategic weapons would harm Russia's security, particularly as NATO is expanding. They also argue that Russia cannot afford the costs of dismantling its arsenal.
START Two slashes the two countries' Cold War nuclear arsenals by up to two-thirds to no more than 3,500 warheads each by 2007.
The daily "Kommersant" quoted Maslyukov, who is seen as close to industries in Russia's military-industrial complex, as telling deputies that Russia's nuclear shield would remain in place, if Russia goes ahead with building a new Topol-M missile. This missile, known to NATO as the SS-27 and not included in START II, would replace some of the aging rockets to be scrapped under the treaty. Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov said after yesterday's session that "these were essentially the last parliamentary hearings" on the issue. He told journalists ratification of the treaty is no longer a strategic question, but a purely economic one.
Seleznyov said a vote on the issue would be scheduled as soon as the cash-strapped Primakov government provides concrete figures on how much the treaty would cost Russia.
Some deputies in the State Duma say there is as yet no majority in favor of ratifying the treaty. Seleznyov's deputy, Vladimir Ryzhkov, agreed, but added that "there is essential progress on this question". He said that four parliamentary committees would prepare all necessary documentation on START Two over the next 10 days, together with proposals for further action.
Today, Shokhin of the "Our Home Is Russia" faction said the Duma may vote on an amended version of the START Two ratification law as early as this month.