START II delay jeopardizes Russia IMF money

Publish date: June 8, 1998

Written by: Thomas Jandl

The chairman of the International Relations Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to President Bill Clinton urging him to oppose additional funding for Russia. Among other issues, he mentioned the Duma's stalling on START II ratification as a cause for his opposition to continued financial support to Russia.

Rep. Ben Gilman of New York, the Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, wrote a letter to President Clinton urging the Administration to withhold U.S. support for additional funding for aid to Russia’s ailing economy. Mr. Gilman writes he and other U.S. parliamentarians are "increasingly disappointed" by the direction Russia’s foreign policy is taking.

A committee staffer listed the policy issues for Bellona Web. Most of the issues of concern to Mr. Gilman are directed at the Yeltsin Administration. They include Russia’s policy of arms sales to China, support for the authoritarian Lukashenko government in Belarus and Russian assistance for the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran as well as the Cuban nuclear power industry. But Mr. Gilman also takes a stab at the Duma, criticizing "the Russian Parliament’s unwillingness to ratify the START II nuclear arms reduction treaty."

START II is high on the Clinton and Yeltsin Administrations’ respective agendas. Mr. Clinton has made ratification a prerequisite for a summit meeting with his Russian counterpart. Mr. Yeltsin is pushing for ratification as well. On June 5, Foreign Affairs Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev and other national security officials were dispatched to meet with Duma factions behind closed doors to explain why the treaty is in Russia’s best interest.

Under the treaty, signed in 1993 and ratified by the United States, Moscow and Washington would reduce their deployed nuclear warheads from 6,000 each to no more than 3,500 by the year 2007. Russia can ill afford to maintain these lower levels, let alone fund its present arsenal.

But the U.S. pressure on Moscow seems to backfire. Some Duma members have expressed their dissatisfaction with Mr. Clinton’s meddling in the Russian political process. The Speaker of the Duma, Communist Gennady Selezynov, rejected getting into a "disarmament race." He added the Duma will not consider ratification before its summer recess on July 10.

Meanwhile, Yeltsin foes in the Duma are cheerful about denying the president a photo opportunity with Mr. Clinton. Thus, while the U.S. Administration is leaning hard on Mr. Yeltsin, who already favors ratification, it gives the Duma majority another reason to say no to START. In addition to opposing American interference in Russian affairs, Communists and Nationalists now see a chance to hurt Mr. Yeltsin with their opposition to the disarmament agreement.

According to Mr. Gilman’s calculation, given the condition of the Russian economy, withholding International Monetary Fund money could be just the strategy to soften opposition. The IMF has approved a loan package totaling $9.2 billion. Moscow is counting on $670 million of this package to be released later this month.

The Clinton Administration is on the record as favoring the release of the money. While Mr. Gilman’s letter may not be able to change this decision for now, it finally represents a stick in Washington’s policy towards the Duma. A delay would for the first time not only hurt Mr. Yeltsin, but also have an impact in the districts of the representatives intent on derailing the START agreement.

The one thing still missing for a long-term START ratification strategy is the carrot for the Duma. If START is ratified, Mr. Yeltsin gets his meeting with the U.S. president, while all the Duma can claim to have obtained in return for a policy U-turn is the release of IMF money that had already been promised.

The best policy option is to wield a carrot for the Duma on a related issue. American largesse in helping Russia to comply with a START II agreement would be a carrot by which Duma representatives could justify their change of hearts. The Cooperative Threat Reduction project, for example, is a functioning program whose extension would not step on anybody’s toes while providing an incentive to ratify START.

A CTR carrot could be flavored with programs such as one by Rep. Curt Weldon from Pennsylvania, the Republican front man for Russian nuclear policy in the U.S. Congress. Weldon wants to help the Russian military to move its personnel into civilian life through a variety of living-standard improvement programs.

It is unclear how far the Congress is willing to go. The Gilman letter opens an opportunity to place the pressure squarely where it belongs-and follow up with constructive projects to pick up again the previously so promising U.S.-Russian dialogue where it got lost over various petty squabbles.