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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

START II Ratification Considered Unlikely

A senior Russian legislator has said that the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, is unlikely to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty this year because of widespread opposition from communists and nationalists.

Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Duma foreign affairs committee who has been a supporter of the treaty and is a leader of the centrist Yabloko bloc, said Saturday the treaty had become "over-politicized," especially among the Communists. In remarks quoted by Interfax, Lukin urged parliament to realize that Russia will benefit from ratification if it is accompanied by "speedy conclusion" of a follow-up treaty, START III, to cut nuclear arsenals even further.

Kremlin spokesman Sergy Yastrzhembsky said Monday that talks on START III could not proceed until after the Duma's ratification of START II.

Lukin's comments underscored the problems facing the agreement signed in 1993 by presidents Boris Yeltsin and George Bush. The 450-member Duma is dominated by communists and nationalists.

Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the Duma security committee and a Communist, reiterated the faction's opposition to ratification. START II is "beneficial only for the United States and NATO, but not for Russia, which may lose its last defense shield if this document is ratified," he told Interfax.

This week, Yeltsin announced during a visit to Sweden that Russia unilaterally will reduce its nuclear arsenal by one-third. Aides later said he was referring to an initiative previously floated to President Bill Clinton for possible joint reductions in START III, for which preliminary talks are underway.

Both sides would move to lower levels of nuclear warheads in another agreement. This could ease financial problems Moscow faces in implementing the START II accord, which requires Russia to dismantle its multiple-warhead ballistic missiles and build new single-warhead missiles instead.

START II set ceilings of 3,000 to 3,500 warheads for each side, which could drop to 2,000 to 2,500 in a START III deal.

But the United States has insisted that full-scale negotiations cannot begin on START III until the Duma ratifies the START II treaty. It already has been approved by the U.S. Senate. Yeltsin promised Clinton at their summit in Helsinki last March that he would attempt to push the agreement through the Duma this year, but he has made little attempt to do so.

Backers of the START II accord in the Duma have complained that Yeltsin's efforts to get it ratified have been scattershot at best. In September, the defense and foreign ministers made a pitch for the treaty. But some lawmakers say the government has been unable to present a coherent long-term plan for restructuring Russia's nuclear forces under future agreements.

Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, the former head of the strategic rocket forces, has been an outspoken backer of START II ratification and said this week it was a "most acute problem."

Saturday, the Defense Ministry's newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda, published a front-page commentary on why ratification is an "important and necessary step" for Russia.