Russia and America Formally Scrap Start II, ABM Treaties

Publish date: June 16, 2002

Written by: Charles Digges

Russia pulled out of the 1993 START II nuclear arms treaty Friday, one day after the United States formally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prohibiting construction of a missile defence system.

The action by the Russian parliament had limited practical effect, however, because the US and Russian legislatures had ratified different versions of START II, preventing it from taking force.

“Putin does want to show that two can play at this game,” said Jon Wolfsthal, deputy director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington told the Washington Post. “This is a signal to the US, and it is also Putin consolidating support with the military and the hard-liners, telling the conservatives: ‘We aren’t going to let them roll all over us.'”

Meanwhile, reaction in Moscow to the long-planned US withdrawal on Thursday from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty was mute, on the whole echoing President Vladimir Putin’s acceptance of Washington’s unilateral declaration last year that it would pull out.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, speaking in Canada on Thursday during a meeting of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight, said Russia is interested in continuing talks with the United States on nuclear arms and missile defence.

“The primary aim now is to minimize the negative consequences of the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty,” he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

In Moscow, by backing out of START II, Russia frees itself from what military experts in Moscow considered onerous restrictions on the land-based intercontinental missiles that are Russia’s strongest nuclear assets.

START II’s requirement stipulating that such weapons be armed with only one warhead each meant in essence that Russia had to build an entire new generation of missiles, analysts and lawmakers said.

Other restrictions set by START II are obsolete, including the requirement that both countries slash their nuclear arsenals to 3,500 warheads apiece.

The much-derided treaty signed in Moscow last month requires the United States and Russia to limit themselves to 1,750 to 2,200 each in the next decade. Opponents of the treaty have pointed out that it has no decommissioning schedule, meaning, conceivably, that neither side will have to start slashing arsenals for a decade. Also provisions for the American side allow the stockpiling — rather than the destruction of warheads — and makes the treaty virtually pointless.

But both Foreign Minister Ivanov and Mikhail Margelov, chief of the Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, told Bellona Web through spokesmen that it was thanks to Russia’s insistence on a new formal US-Russia nuclear arms treaty — the Moscow Treaty, signed during the summit last month — that the negotiation process was kept alive.

Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov underscored that Russia was not retaliating for the US decision to pull out of the ABM Treaty by withdrawing from the Start II treaty. The ABM treaty expired Thursday, six months after Washington gave notice it would withdraw. “The national defence system exists in virtual space, not in reality,” he told reporters in Kyrgyzstan. “So there is no need for retaliation.”

Others were less conciliatory. Some at the Foreign Ministry blamed the United States for START II’s demise, saying Washington had failed to fully ratify the treaty and had invalidated the ABM Treaty, which was the cornerstone of arms control agreements for three decades, Ministry officials said in interviews with Bellona web Friday.

State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov said the United States had lost trust among other members of the international community, Interfax reported.

Dmitry Rogozin, the hard-line head of the Duma foreign affairs committee called the US withdrawal from the ABM treaty a “big political mistake,” adding that Russia was freed from the conditions of START II as a result, Interfax said.

Flamboyant ultranationalist and Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky said the day was a “holiday” for Russia. “We can now do whatever we want,” Interfax reported him as saying.

Bush administration officials virtually underscored that, having repeatedly said that a Russian decision to arm its missiles with multiple warheads would not be a significant threat to the United States. Washington is much more concerned about whether nuclear material could be stolen or diverted from Russia to unfriendly countries, they have said.