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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Perry to Push Duma for START II Approval

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry arrived in Moscow on Wednesday to push the case for Russian ratification of the START II treaty with a recalcitrant State Duma.

While Perry found an ally in his Russian counterpart, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, with whom he met Wednesday afternoon, he will have a much harder sell when he meets with parliamentarians Thursday.

Perry's visit began on a high note. After meeting with the secretary, Rodionov told Interfax that he "not only supported [the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty], but was a supporter of considering a further treaty, START III, aimed at further reduction of strategic weapons."

Perry indicated that the United States also supported the idea of a supplemental treaty. The two security chiefs also discussed the military situation in Bosnia, where both countries have peacekeeping forces, and plans for NATO expansion.

The U.S. Senate ratified START II in January, and Perry said Wednesday that he had not come to Moscow to discuss any changes. Rejecting the treaty, he warned, would cost both countries billions of dollars -- a burden cash-strapped Russia would be hard pressed to bear.

But in the Duma, politicians of all stripes maintain that the real issue is not START II, but plans for NATO expansion. The two, they insist, cannot be discussed separately.

"There are more minuses than pluses in the treaty, but I think that we still need it. First we must resolve the three biggest minuses, however. The first of these is NATO enlargement," said Alexei Podberyozkin, a leader of the powerful Communist Party faction.

Podberyozkin's position was shared by Alexander Paradiz, a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction. "The question of START II ratification must be considered in connection with NATO expansion," he said.

Both Podberyozkin and Paradiz are members of the Duma's influential International Affairs Committee, which Perry will address Thursday jointly with the Defense Committee. He is not likely to tell the deputies what they want to hear.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense told Reuters that Washington would not allow the Duma to use the START II treaty as a lever to influence NATO expansion policy. "I do not see a connection between these two issues," he said.

"The benefits of START II to both the United States and to Russia speak for themselves and stand by themselves. And I will address them on that basis and will be prepared to defend and justify them on that basis," Perry said.

Rodionov told Interfax that chances for ratification of START II in the Duma "would depend on Secretary of Defense Perry's speech" Thursday.

Vladimir Averchev, also a member of the International Affairs Committee and a deputy from the liberal Yabloko faction, disagreed. "I do not expect anything dramatic to result from this meeting, because the American side is not yet prepared to respond to our main concerns," he said, adding that few changes were likely in U.S. policy before the presidential election in November.

According to John Steinbruner, an expert on U.S.-Russian relations at the Brookings Institute in Washington, the Duma is likely to ratify START II in the end, given "a meaningful evolution of American policy," but like Averchev he doubted that evolution would move forward during the campaign season.

"In my view it is irresponsible to proceed with NATO expansion without first having a more comprehensive and more credible security relationship with Russia. But it would be difficult to say that this is current U.S. policy, and I do not expect that there will be much adjustment of that policy until after the election," he said.