With the US approval process completed it is Russia’s turn to ratify the New START treaty.
The Russian State Duma approved the New START ratification bill in the first of three readings on Friday, with 350 votes for and 58 against the document.
The ratification procedure in Russia involves three steps: approvals from the lower and the upper houses of parliament and then the signing of the ratification document by the president. However after today’s session, the remaining two steps are likely to be scheduled for after the New Year.
On Thursday, Dmitry Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said the Russian president welcomed the ratification "with satisfaction" and "expressed hope that the State Duma and the Federation Council are ready to examine this question and ratify the document."
Friday’s session focused on the actual text of the treaty, while the two other sessions will review the text of the ratification resolution that the US Senate insisted upon.
Even though there is some opposition to the agreement in Russia’s State Duma representatives of the United Russia party, which has the required majority, say they are ready to approve the most significant arms control agreement.
The New STARTreaty was ratified by the US Senate on Wednesday after long and hard partisan discussions.
Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev signed the agreement in April in Prague, but it has since been bogged down by delays across the Atlantic.
Under the treaty, Russia and the United States will have to cut their nuclear arsenals by a third, from the current 2,200 to 1,500 warheads each. There will also be cuts in delivery systems, and the regular inspections that ended when the 1999 START treaty expired will be reinstated. Most importantly, the New START treaty helps to distinguish between offensive weapons and defensive capabilities of both sides.
If both countries ratify the treaty, as early as 45 days after it gets ratified the first cuts in stockpiles could start in the US.
Political analyst Evgeny Volk, deputy director of the Yeltsin Foundation, thinks it will not take the Russian side as long as it took the Americans to ratify the treaty, although the parliamentary debates are bound to be heated.
“The Communists and the Liberal Democrats, the ultra-nationalist parties could ask some very tough questions about the linkage between the reduction of strategic arms and the ballistic missile defense,” he pointed out.
“I don’t think that the Russian Parliament will introduce any new amendments to the treaty,” Volk added. “But it certainly will discuss the amendments and the statements which were made in the American Senate and the consequences of the treaty for Russian security.”
Speaking about the role New START plays for both allies, Yury Rogulov from the political history department at Moscow State University said that the treaty is crucial for improving relations between Russia and the US.
“Without ratification of this treaty we could not hope for the improvement, serious improvement of relations between the two countries. And right now the situation is quite favorable for cooperation between the two countries on many international issues – from the anti-missile system in Europe to Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It makes us hopeful speaking about the nearest future for our countries.”
Tom Collina, research director at the Arms Control Association, said the ratification could usher in further cooperation in reducing nuclear stockpiles.
“It is a great boon for Russia-US relations and hopefully will lead to further negotiations on deeper cuts in nuclear arsenals, addressing tactical short-range nuclear weapons as well,” Collina said. “I think this is just the beginning of a much more fruitful relationship between both sides.”
By showing that the US and Russia are taking another step toward significant arms reduction, the treaty may affect the nuclear policy of other countries, suggested Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association.
“It does put pressure on the others to become transparent, and to be more willing to engage in what they can do to move toward nuclear disarmament,” he said.
Anti-nuclear campaigner and British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn says that the new treaty should spur on other countries to move toward what he calls “global zero”, when all nations can get rid of nuclear weapons together.
“It is such a huge step and it was predicted to end in failure. So the fact that president Obama and President Medvedev have come to the agreement is a huge step forward and it’s got to be a spur,” Corbyn says. “Surely the next thing is for all nations to agree not to renew their nuclear systems because most of them are preparing some kind of upgrade or some kind of renewal. And then move on to a new nuclear weapons convention that can include all nations in the world, including those that are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, particularly Israel, India, Pakistan, both Koreas.”
However, democratic strategist Robert Weiner says the thought that a pact would offer a cue to other nuclear states to join the process of cutting the nuclear arms is quite controversial.
“Well, this is a very strong argument because how can we ask Iran to have zero if the United States and Russia have 20,000 nuclear weapons?”, he said. “So the fact that we are willing to cut is a moral statement that the world will pay attention to and it gives credence to a dream from Reagan to Obama and all the secretaries of state in between from both parties that perhaps someday we can have a nuclear-free world. That really is the objective that we all want and everybody makes fun of a dream, but I think none of us wants to die.”
Dmitry Suslov from the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy fears the positive spirit might vanish if the two countries fail to find a compromise on missile defense. However, he sees wisdom in the US plan to upgrade its existing nuclear weapons complex.
“The New START treaty is not really about reducing missiles, it’s about keeping the missiles, but at the same time showing officially that we are in the process of arms control, verification and reduction,” he said. “More and more countries are acquiring nuclear weapons or want to acquire nuclear weapons. There are countries like China, and it would be disastrous for international stability if China jumps up to the level of Russia and United States.”
Alice Slater, director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, says the deal is just one step in the right direction, but an important one, as it reinstalls the ability of both countries to inspect each other’s nuclear weapons facilities.
“This is very important to build trust, so that we can actually go to disarmament,” she said.
“And the other very good thing about START is that it shows that the US and Russia can make a deal and that we now have to move forward. These cuts have been on the table since the end of the Cold War,” she added.
A former Republican senator, Chuck Hagel, says that those who opposed the treaty for months changed their mind because the new START is clearly in the interest of America.
“There was a realization that an immense knowledge base was all in favor of ratification,” Hagel said. “Those who over the years for the United States government had responsibility for nuclear weapons and for strategies and for foreign policy all were overwhelmingly in support of this… it was clearly in the interest of the United States as well as Russia. So I think that in the end… knowledge and information won out over politics.”
The public in the US, he says, has been supportive of ratification of this treaty mainly because of the “understanding that the word without nuclear weapons is a better world.”
While politicians are still engaged in the formal process of final ratification, the Russian military has already been taking steps needed on the ground for compliance with the deal.
US officials have confirmed that the Russian side has already submitted a list of 35 nuclear facilities to be open to American inspections. START provides for a new monitoring mechanism to ensure that both countries are cutting their arsenals.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Rose Gottemoeller has confirmed that Russia has already cut the number of deployed weapons below the 700-level stipulated by the treaty, Itar-Tass reported.