Russia ratifies New START

The Russian parliament completed on January 26 its process of advice and consent for ratifying the New START nuclear arms treaty, and President Dmitry Medvedev signed the ratification bill on January 28.

Both houses of the Russian parliament were required to approve of the treaty. The Duma (lower house) provided its final approval on January 25, by a vote of 350-96, with one abstention. The 137 members of the Federation Council (upper house) voted unanimously for the treaty a day later.

Russian parliamentarians included statements on the law of ratification for New START. Although these statements are not part of the binding text of the treaty, they do reflect substantive concerns and establish conditions for implementation of the treaty.

One of the key issues raised in the statements included Russia’s oft-expressed fear about U.S. strategic missile defense plans. They warned that Russia will withdraw from the New START treaty if the U.S.-led systems endanger the potential effectiveness of Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

They also raised another point of contention over the presence of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in Europe, which are part of NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangements. Although Russia is estimated to have many thousands more of these weapons, the United States is the only country to currently deploy TNWs outside of its own territory. Parliament included in its accompanying text demands for Washington to remove these weapons from Europe and return them to the United States.

These were only a couple of the concerns that the Russian parliament formally raised, but they are ones that indicate the kinds of problems that may lay ahead in any negotiations on related treaties or other agreements in the future.

The U.S. Senate approved New START on December 22, and President Barack Obama is expected to sign the U.S. ratification bill next week. Russia and the United States will exchange the instruments of ratification when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet during the annual Munich Security Conference, February 4-6, with the most likely date being February 5. New START will then enter into force for a period of ten years. It will limit the number of U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 for each side and will also limit each country to a total of 800 delivery systems – including launchers and heavy bombers.
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