With Russian Ratification of New START, What's Next for US-Russia Relations?

Article excerpt

The New START treaty, which Russia's Federation Council ratified today, is a major step in resetting US-Russia relations, yet many major issues remain.

The New START nuclear arms reduction treaty - the most ambitious US-Russia strategic accord since the cold war - cleared its final hurdle Wednesday by winning unanimous approval from Russia's upper house of parliament.

The deal, which will see strategic nuclear arsenals on both sides slashed by about 30 percent, was ratified by the more rambunctious State Duma, the lower house, on Tuesday by a comfortable vote of 350 to 96. (Members of the upper house, called the Federation Council, are effectively appointed by the Kremlin, while a few opposition deputies still sit in the elected Duma).

Experts say the treaty's passage through Russia's parliament has been a foregone conclusion since the US Senate gave it a far-less- predictable stamp of approval during its lame-duck session last month.

"There were no doubts that the Duma would pass this, since it's clear to all that this is a necessary and beneficial agreement for Russia," says Pavel Zolotaryov, deputy director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow. "Russia's economy cannot afford to compete with the US in this area, and this accord sets a level that supports strategic stability. It also corrects the system of mutual verification of nuclear armaments [which had lapsed], making it simpler but essentially as effective as before."

President Dmitry Medvedev is expected to sign the ratification document soon, allowing New START to come into legal force.

Skepticism about New START

The treaty still faces strong skepticism from some in the US who worry Russia might use wording in the document's preamble, which links offensive weapons cuts with the still-contentious issue of missile defense, to limit US strategic freedom of action in future.

Before passing the ratification bill Tuesday, the Duma amended it to stress Russia's right to withdraw from START if the US upsets the strategic balance with any major missile defense initiatives.

"The treaty will work only if the US observes its conditions," the head of the Duma's foreign affairs commission, Konstantin Kosachyev, told journalists Tuesday.

Later that day, President Obama said during his State of the Union message that the deal shows that efforts to halt the proliferation of atomic arms around the world are alive and well. …