NY Times
Russia is putting pressure on US over arms pacts

By PATRICK E. TYLER

April 22, 2000


MOSCOW, April 21 -- In an unusual display of political unity, the Russian Parliament today handed President-elect Vladimir V. Putin his third overwhelming vote in a week ratifying a major arms control accord. The vote set the stage for a diplomatic campaign to put the United States on the defensive in nuclear disarmament talks.

By a vote of 298 to 74, the lower house of Parliament ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that the United States Senate rejected last October. In the last seven days, Mr. Putin won ratification in both the upper and lower houses of a strategic arms reduction accord that calls for halving the American and Russian arsenals to no more than 3,500 warheads each.

At the same time, Russia's military and civilian leaders warned of a resumption of the nuclear arms race should Washington go ahead with plans to erect a national antimissile defense shield in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which prohibits the development or deployment of such defenses.

Though it was not clear whether Russia had the means to carry out the threat, Mr. Putin's maneuvers still left President Clinton in a political squeeze. On one side, Moscow is putting ever stronger pressure on the United States to seek even greater cuts in nuclear arms. On the other, political opponents in Congress want to block any deals with Moscow that might limit America's ability to develop the antimissile shield.

The Clinton administration has hoped that Russia would agree to some modifications in the existing antimissile treaty, clearing the way for some form of a national shield, in exchange for negotiations on further strategic cuts.

But 25 senior Republican senators, including Majority Leader Trent Lott and Jesse Helms, told President Clinton in a letter this week that they would oppose any efforts to negotiate amendments to the treaty that might limit the national missile defense system they favor.

"The Russians have maneuvered themselves into a position where they are the advocates of arms control and arms reduction," said Ivo Daalder, an arms control expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, "and this puts the United States in a terrible position," especially after the Senate's rejection of the nuclear test ban treaty last October. "The Clinton administration needs to come up with an idea on how to move the ball forward," he added.

The votes in Moscow over the past week demonstrated that Mr. Putin has significant political command of the legislature, which often thwarted his predecessor.

They also showed the president-elect moving swiftly and forcefully on one of the most pressing national security problems facing Russia -- how to maintain a strategic nuclear balance with the United States at a time when Russia simply cannot afford a large nuclear arsenal.

Russian officials would like to further reduce American and Russian nuclear arsenals to about 1,500 warheads each, while the Pentagon insists that 2,500 warheads are needed to ensure American security from every conceivable threat, including rogue states and accidental launches. Russia and China believe these threats are exaggerated and that Washington wants to erect a missile shield as the first step toward undermining their national strategic deterrent forces. After the vote today, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said, "The ball is now in the court of the United States."

Mr. Ivanov also said that if the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, "Russia would not be bound by its strategic arms reduction obligations."

Col. Gen. Valery Manilov, a deputy chief of the general staff of the Russian military, warned that Russia was prepared to respond to a breakdown in the treaty with "asymmetrical" systems that could undermine American advances in missile defense. "Our scientific, technological and military potentials are capable of offsetting the harm resulting from the disintegration of the system of disarmament agreements," General Manilov said.

In a pointed gesture, Mr. Putin met with his security advisers today and formally approved a new national security strategy that warns of potential threat from American military pre-eminence and the expansion of the western military alliance closer to Russia's frontiers.

The document spelled out a new doctrine that would authorize Russian forces to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict in which they faced "large-scale aggression" or were attacked with "weapons of mass destruction," according to Col. Gen. Leonid Ivashov, who was quoted by the Interfax news agency.

Moreover, last week Russia and Belarus reached an agreement to create a 300,000-strong joint military force to counter NATO's eastward expansion. Though the creation of the force was largely symbolic, and an immediate dispute broke out over who would command the troops, Mr. Putin's personal involvement in the negotiations underscored his resolve to project a stronger image of Russian military power.

Mr. Ivanov flies to New York this weekend for a meeting at the United Nations to review efforts to eliminate the threat from nuclear weapons and the spread of nuclear weapons technology, and he is certain to make full use of the ratification votes.

After today's vote, Mr. Ivanov told reporters that because the treaty had been ratified by an overwhelming majority, "This is an important step towards preventing the spread of nuclear weapons." Russia now joins Britain and France as original nuclear powers that have both signed and ratified the treaty banning all nuclear explosions. The United States and China have not.

"These votes are a very clear demonstration of the willingness of Mr. Putin and of the Parliament to save arms control at a critical moment when we see dangers to the regime of negotiations started by the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1960's," said Andrei A. Kokoshin, a member of Parliament and a senior national security aide to former President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Mr. Kokoshin said the Russian leadership is deeply concerned that the politics of the American presidential election campaign were adding to the pressure on President Clinton to go forward with the deployment of a national missile defense system, even if that meant unilaterally breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

Russian officials this week emphasized that the United States Senate must now ratify several outstanding protocols of the Start II arms reduction accord, which clarify and reaffirm the terms of the antimissile treaty. Without Senate action, the Russians say they will not carry out Start II.

The Clinton administration immediately praised the Russian vote and sought to play down the American failure to complete its own ratification process.

"We welcome that," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters. "We hope as time goes on and we are able to make our case to the Senate, our Senate will follow the lead of many other countries around the world and ratify an important treaty."

At the State Department, spokesman James P. Rubin also expressed hope that "quiet consultations" with members of the Senate might make it possible for the United States to join the ratifying states. "It was the United States that led the way in signing the comprehensive test ban and pushing for its negotiation and ultimately its agreement. So I think we feel quite confident that it was our leadership that helped."

President Clinton is due to come to Moscow in June to try to persuade the new Russian leader that the ballistic missile threat from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq warrants an adjustment to the antimissile treaty to allow a defense system capable of shooting down a small number of incoming ballistic missiles. Mr. Clinton has set a target date of late summer to decide whether to proceed with a missile defense system after the next scheduled test of a prototype interceptor.

More than 150 nations have signed the test ban treaty and more than 50 have ratified it, but the treaty will not take effect until 44 nations specifically designated in the treaty have ratified it. Among those are the United States and China, neither of which has.

A number of nations welcomed the Russian vote today. "This is a big step towards our goal of this crucial treaty's entry into force as soon as possible," said Peter Hain, spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office. "We hope that the United States and China will now do likewise." He added, "Early signature of the treaty by India and Pakistan would also be a major step forward."



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