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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The spectacular ouster of former Russian security tsar Alexander Lebed distracted public attention in Moscow and in the West away from other potentially more explosive issues. One of the casualties was the high-level U.S. mission headed by the U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry who came to Moscow to lobby for a speedy ratification of the START II agreement by the Russian State Duma the same week that the Lebed drama was unfolding.

If implemented, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would require the United States and Russia to slash their nuclear arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 long-range warheads each by the year 2003. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty by an 87 to 4 vote last January. But objections have been raised in Russia, and ratification is deadlocked. Some legislators fear that major nuclear cuts could leave Moscow vulnerable to pressure from the West.

Perry was accompanied to Moscow by leading U.S. senators Sam Nunn of Georgia, Richard Lugar of Indiana and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Lugar and Lieberman told me they came to Moscow to say to the Duma deputies: "We want a strong partnership with Russia, but if START II is not ratified or there are any serious changes in the treaty, this will only help those in the Congress who do not believe in Russia's good intentions and are against a strategic partnership."

The U.S. senators implied that there would be sanctions against Russia if START II were not ratified. Congress would freeze millions of dollars of Nunn-Lugar funds that the United States has provided to further nuclear disarmament in Russia. Moreover, if the Duma did not ratify START II before the end of next August, the U.S. Senate would recall its earlier ratification of the treaty. Then START II would be dead, and the U.S. would keep its present level of nuclear armaments, while Russia would be forced to continue disarmament, since it has no money to maintain or upgrade its nuclear arsenal.

Perry also told me during his visit to Moscow: "I understand that the cost of START II is an important issue in Russia and I have said that Nunn-Lugar funds would be available to help defray those costs. Obviously those funds are available for that only if START II is ratified. That, I think, is a very clear connection."

While they tied START II to disarmament aid, U.S. officials refused to see any link whatever with NATO expansion. Lugar put it bluntly: "We in Congress want START II to be ratified as soon as possible and we also want NATO expansion."But the Russians were unimpressed: From Moscow's point of view, NATO expansion is connected with everything in East-West relations. Influential Duma deputies told me after meeting with Perry that they "did not hear anything new" and did not understand why he bothered to visit Moscow this time.

Nunn-Lugar funds have actually helped Russia to dismantle nuclear warheads and missiles. A U.S.-made $30 million plant for the destruction and safe use of the very toxic and carcinogenic rocket fuel, geptil, has been operating since April near the city of Sergei Posad. Before then, Russians did not have the know-how to destroy the fuel.

But under the Nunn-Lugar program, almost all contracts go to U.S. contractors, so there is very little pressure from Russian business to keep the program running. Only the Russian Defense Ministry sees the benefits of U.S.-sponsored aid.

The Defense Ministry has from the very beginning lobbied for START II ratification. But the influence of the Russian military in the Duma is limited: It can't even get a decent defense budget.

The situation would most likely have been very different if the Nunn-Lugar funds ($1.2 billion have been already approved by Congress) had been distributed through influential Russian banks such as Uneximbank, MOST Bank and others. Then the Russian press would have been calling loudly for ratification of START II, and the Duma deputies would have voted for it with enthusiasm.

For years, the West has preached capitalist social values to Russians, but Westerners still lobby the bureaucracy, even when much real power has moved away from the Kremlin to private business. The West scorns the new Russian rich and, as a result, the new ruling elite is becoming more and more anti-American, with businessmen often turning out to be more nationalistic than generals.

Pavel Felgenhauer is the defense and national security affairs editor for Segodnya.