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START II As A Victim Of Sexual Scandal In Moscow

by Alexandr Pikayev, Scholar-in-Residence at the Carnegie Moscow Center

The content of this page is written by Dr. Alexander A. Pikayev based on two his earlier letters to Arms Control experts community posted on March 16, 1999 and March 19, 1999. We thank the author for giving permission to publish his paper at the START Web site.

March 22, 1999

Prior to important Prime Minister Primakov visit to Washington, on March 16 the Duma finally resumed the START II ratification process, which was halted on December 17, 1998 in a protest to Anglo-American airstrikes against Iraq. Although during following days the ratification was again affected by, that time, Russian domestic political instability caused by sexual scandal around the Prosecutor General, there are some chances that the Treaty could be ratified by the Duma on April 2 or April 9, 1999.

In 1997 international obstacles to START II ratification were generally solved: the US side agreed to initiate START III negotiations after START II enters into force; disputes over NATO enlargement were partially settled by signing the NATO-Russia Founding Act. Furthermore, in September 1998 domestic problems were also removed when President Yeltsin agreed to form a coalition government under Primakov supported by the left majority in the Duma.

Soon after Primakov's ascension, the ratification process was unfrozen. The Duma, Government (primarily, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and the Presidential administration started to debate informally the draft resolution. By mid-December it was completed and formally submitted to the Duma as the Lukin-Popkovich Bill (Dr. Vladimir Lukin and Gen. Roman Popkovich are chairmen of, respectively, the Duma international affairs and defense committees). Due to the procedures of the Russian legislature, ratification bills must be submitted by the President. Thus, in order to avoid procedural complications and subsequent delays, an informal agreement was reached so that the Council of Duma sends the Lukin-Popkovich Bill to the President, and then Mr. Yeltsin submits the text as his own back to the Duma. This was a decision made by the Council of the Duma on March 16.

Initially, according to the Duma speaker Mr. Seleznyov, there were hopes to finish the ratification by the whole Duma on Friday, March 19 - in order to improve Primakov's negotiation position in Washington. For that, the Presidential Administration had to complete the paperwork by Wednesday evening, March 17 so that the Bill could be returned to the Duma prior to a next meeting of the Duma Council scheduled for Thursday morning, March 18.

However, already on Wednesday morning it became clear that the decision making in the Kremlin has been almost paralyzed by an anti-Yeltsin voting in the Federation Council - upper house of the Russian Parliament. By constitutional majority the Council suddenly declined resignation of the Prosecutor General Yuri Scuratov (Russian analogue to the US Attorney General), which was sought by Mr.Yeltsin. During recent months Mr.Scuratov, who enjoys wide support from the Duma left majority, launched intrusive criminal investigation against allegedly illegal commercial activity and corruption of several VIPs, including, according to rumors, Russian top reformers Anatoly Chubais and Boris Nemtsov. The Prosecutor claimed, that in order to damage the investigation, he was blackmailed by video tape of his relations with 'call girls'. On Wednesday late night the state owned nationwide RTR-1 Channel finally broadcasted 'portions' of video tape demonstrated quite romantic episode with, as they said, 'a man looking like Mr.Scuratov'.

The Wednesday voting in the Federation Council highly increased chances that the impeachment resolution, which the Communists are going to debate in the Duma in mid-April, might be successfully passed by the upper house as well. By securing Mr.Scuratov position in his office, the Communists could also expect more prospects for successful consideration of the impeachment in the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, as it required by the Russian law. As a result, the Left significantly consolidated their domestic leverage, and Mr.Yeltsin, for the first time since 1993, is facing a real threat to be impeached.

On Wednesday, March 17, the Communist speaker of the Duma Gennady Seleznyov interrupted the session for informing the deputies on voting in the Federation Council. In the following euphoria, the Duma decided to have an additional session on Thursday, March 18. It effectively precluded a scheduled meeting of the Council of the Duma, where the START II ratification bill could be considered. Thus, even if the Kremlin successfully completed the paperwork by Thursday, its consideration by the whole Duma on Friday would not happen anyway.

The emotions further increased then the Wednesday evening news informed on the US Senate resolution, which, according to Russian media, calls for eventual US NMD deployment. This bill was immediately - and, probably, mistakenly - described by some START II proponents here as 'another Washington contribution for the Treaty non-ratification'.

Nevertheless, presumably, after a three hours long meeting took place on Thursday, March 18, between the Prime Minister and leaders of the left Duma fraction and groups, the Duma included the START II ratification for the second nearest 'ratification day', April 2: during a week of March 21 the Duma is on a short recess.

Now, the ideal scenario could be the following:

Monday, March 29. By the end of the day the Presidential administration must complete all paperwork necessary for submitting the resolution to the Duma. It is very important to keep language of the document identical to the Lukin-Popkovich Bill, otherwise, the whole deal will be broken (though the deputies could accept some minor changes). The bill must be delivered to the Duma by Tuesday morning, March 30 at the latest.

Tuesday morning, March 30. Upon receiving the Presidential bill, the Council of the Duma could decide to consider it during its regular meeting on Tuesday. Unless it decides to postpone consideration until one of the next meetings (the next will be on Thursday, April 1), the Council might recommend to distribute the Bill for consideration by more than two dozen of the Duma committees and commissions. Under the Duma procedural regulations, it could be necessary, since neither the Lukin-Popkovich nor Presidential Bills were formally endorsed by the various committees. But that requirement could be avoided if the pressure from the Duma leaders is strong enough. In that case, the Council can recommend to consider the Bill ratification during the closest 'ratification day' - April 2. Usually, the Council of the Duma finishes its meetings around noon, Moscow time.

Tuesday afternoon, March 30, and Thursday afternoon, April 1. During those days, the Duma fractions, and, likely (pending on the Council of the Duma decision made on March 30), committees and commissions will define their position on the START II ratification. In a case, if debates in committees and commissions would be considered necessary, the Duma Council might discuss the Treaty ratification again, on Thursday morning, April 1.

For ratifying the Treaty, a simple majority of 226 votes is needed. Liberal 'Yabloko', pro-governmental Our Home is Russia, and nationalist Liberal Democratic parties will most likely approve the Treaty, which will give it approximately 140 guaranteed votes. Furthermore, START II might be supported by majority of the Agrarians and the Russian Regions groups, plus half of the conservative Power for the People. This would yield approximately 65-70 more votes. There are also around 15 democratically oriented independent deputies (including former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev), who, in principle, support the Treaty, but the attendance of them all during the ratification day is not guaranteed. Thus, for gaining ratification, at least a few Communist votes are required. The Communist fraction can make two decisions - to vote against the Treaty, or to permit so called 'free voting'. The latter one will give opportunity for several moderate Communists to approve the Treaty and, thus, guarantee its ratification. Very likely, the Communists, who have been committed against the Treaty for more than six years, would not be able to make a decision on Tuesday or Thursday, and will continue debate on Friday morning.

Friday, April 2, after 4 p.m. Moscow time (8 am EST). Unless the Duma decides otherwise, treaty ratifications are discussed during Friday evening sessions starting at 4 p.m. If the Treaty is considered, Prime Minister Primakov and the Communist Deputy Prime Minister Maslyukov will arrive at the Duma and will personally attend the ratification session. The attendance of Defense Minister Sergeyev and Foreign Minister Ivanov is also likely. Although the Treaty will be debated only if wide support is secured during consultations in previous two weeks, some sudden developments cannot be excluded. In last ditch efforts to block ratification, START II opponents might, for example, gather 150 signatures necessary for requesting Treaty consideration in the Constitution Court; this action would postpone ratification, at least, for several months.

There will be a spare 'ratification' day - April 9, and consequently, another week for debates in committees and fractions. After that, the Russian political elite might enter a new round of tense political quarrels, which might lead to resignation of the Primakov government, the Duma dissolution and even impeachment.

Prospects for the ratification in early April are even smaller than they seemed on March 16 (fifty-fifty or less). In the domestic political context, recent consolidation of the Communists positions makes the Left less interested in supporting the Primakov government and, therefore, the Cabinet ability to promote legislation through the Duma might further erode. The debates resumed while the latest US-Russian disagreements are unsolved: continuing air strikes in Iraq, the US decision to modify the ABM treaty, and sanctions against ten Russian organizations for their alleged cooperation with Iran. Kosovo could also appear as a new irritant in the bilateral relationship.

On the other hand, President Yeltsin has left the hospital, and he still enjoys good chances to survive impeachment. At least, the very fact, that the Duma leaders used such a Byzantium way to cancel the Thursday, March 18 meeting of the Council of Duma - instead of blunt rejection of possible ratification resolution, - shows that Mr.Primakov still possesses certain credit in the lower house, and, thus, some hopes for the Treaty ratification remain. Furthermore, prospects for the ratification would improve, if Mr. Primakov's visit to Washington brings some positive fruits in areas of Russian debts, Kosovo, sanctions, or the ABM treaty.

Even if the Duma ratifies START II, the Treaty would not enter into force immediately and automatically. First, it will have to be approved by the Federation Council - the upper house of the Russian Parliament. Though opposition there against START II is less than in the Duma, the possibility should not excluded that by the next Council session scheduled for April some domestic or international developments - such as air strikes in Yugoslavia and continuation of a scandal with the Prosecutor General - would affect the process. Then, ironically, the US Senate could become the other obstacle. According to Article IX of the START II draft ratification resolution, the Treaty will enter into force only after the US Senate ratifies the ABM Treaty Succession Memorandum signed in New York in September 1997. Reportedly, it is exactly what the Republican majority on the Hill does not want to do. In their eyes, an absence of the MOU provides with legal grounds for abandoning the ABM treaty itself.

Anyway, mid-March developments were net positive for the START II. After two months long freeze, on March 16 the Duma resumed the ratification process and revived hopes for its success within next three weeks. If it happens, the START II ratification by the Duma in April will be an important milestone in the complicated struggle for Treaty implementation, and the future of nuclear disarmament as a whole. However, a new turn of painful debates both in Washington and Moscow could be realistically expected.

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