. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Rebuffs Perry Plea on START

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry asked the State Duma to bury Cold War suspicions and ratify the START II nuclear disarmament treaty Thursday, but he ran into a wall of hostility and by the end of the day success looked farther away than ever.

Perry has made it a publicly stated priority to persuade Russia's parliament to approve START II, but as a political power struggle erupted around him in Moscow, and deputies responded with polite but chilly resistance, his task appeared superhuman.

"The present State Duma will never ratify this treaty," said Sergei Yushenkov, a member of the defense committee from the liberal Russia's Democratic Choice group.

Perry failed to sway deputies, Yushenkov said, "because the majority of them came in with firm prejudices."

In addition, the timing of Perry's appeal may not have been the best. Alexander Lebed, and the Kremlin powers, Perry responded he was confident the Russian people and their "democratic government" would weather the storm.

On his two-hour encounter with the Duma's international affairs and defense committees on the START II treaty Perry was upbeat. He described the talks as "excellent and productive."

The second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, once ratified, would ban all land-based nuclear weapons with multiple warheads by the year 2003 and would cut the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia to between 3,000 and 3,500 a piece.

But the U.S. defense secretary ran into hostility before he even entered the Duma building opposite the Kremlin. Protesters from the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party greeted him with angry placards that read: "START II is Russia's shame and humiliation," and, in English, "Willyam Perri go home."

Inside, the former commander of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, General Boris Gromov, set the tone by pointedly failing to attend. Gromov heads the Duma subcommittee on arms control.

Mikhail Surkov, deputy chairman of the defense committee from the powerful Communist Party faction, said the meeting was "pleasant" but that the two sides failed to engage in a useful dialogue. "Perry supported ratification, and 100 percent of the Duma deputies who spoke said ratification in these conditions would be premature."

Perry told deputies START II was in Russia's interest because it would trim military expenditures and reduce the risk of weapons falling into the wrong hands.

"I believe the START II treaty is fair and gives neither side an advantage. Both of us know that fewer nuclear weapons in the world makes us all safer," The Associated Press quoted Perry as telling the deputies. "Why would we want to go back to a period of confrontation with Russia? We have tried cooperation, and we like it better."

But according to Vladimir Averchev, a member of the international affairs committee from the liberal Yabloko faction, Perry's choice of arguments doomed his attempt to overcome the Duma's opposition to the treaty.

"Perry advanced the same line he used during the ratification debate in the U.S. Senate," Averchev said. The Senate ratified START II in January. "At the time he demonstrated that the treaty was in America's interest. His problem Thursday was that the questions were entirely different."

Russian opponents of START II have frequently argued it is unfair because Russia's nuclear deterrent is more reliant on land-based multiple-warhead missiles than the United States' is.

The Duma's concerns were summed up by defense committee chairman Lev Rokhlin of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction. Russia, Rokhlin said, should scrap START II altogether and begin negotiations on a new treaty, which he called START III.

The new treaty, Rokhlin said, "should be based on the following principle: We agree to reduce our nuclear defense to a minimal level, but under conditions of equal economic expenditure and equal security."

By all accounts, an overwhelming majority of Duma deputies directly link reduction of Russia's nuclear arsenal with NATO's plans to expand into Eastern Europe. Even supporters of START II in the Duma admit that unless NATO pays heed to Russian security interests, further progress on disarmament is unlikely.

"NATO's planned enlargement to the east undermines our confidence in our partners," Duma international affairs committee chairman Vladimir Lukin, a Yabloko member, told Interfax.

"If we are not listened to ... it will be very difficult to persuade deputies to vote for a reduction of the most powerful Russian armaments."

Perry said plainly before his arrival in Moscow, however, that the United States would not allow the Duma to use START II ratification as a means of influencing NATO expansion policy.

Averchev said the timing for Perry's Duma appearance was also flawed because the Russian government's own executive branch had never lobbied convincingly for ratification.

Defense Minister Igor Rodionov stated his support for the treaty after meeting with Perry on Wednesday, but has never done so before the lower house.

In the end, Perry's immediate goals will have to be far less ambitious than his announced intention to persuade the Duma on START II.

"What Secretary Perry can do is to define an agenda for developing a security relationship with Russia and to accelerate the schedule," said John Steinbruner, an expert on US-Russian relations at the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. "I hope he manages to accomplish this at least in part."