New START Ratification in Russia

Nikilai Sokov
January 25, 2011

New START Ratification in Russia: Russia Parliament, State Duma

Russia Parliament, State Duma
Source: Wikimedia Commons

New Start Ratification in Russia: Apparent Smooth Sailing Obscures Submerged Drama and Revelations

On January 25, 2011, the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, voted 350 to 96 (one abstained) in favor of ratifying the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). (1) Although the treaty still needs the support of the upper chamber, the Federation Council, that body is expected to approve it in the next day or two. The almost year-long saga of New START ratification is nearly over.

To be sure, the ultimate outcome of the Duma vote was never in doubt. Unlike the drama that surrounded the US Senate’s consideration of New START in late 2010, the pro-Kremlin party, Yedinaya Rossiya (United Russia) holds an overwhelming majority in the Duma and could have approved the treaty at almost any point in the last year. In fact, when New START was signed, Presidents Obama and Medvedev agreed to “synchronize” its approval by the two legislatures, and throughout the fall the Russian parliament simply waited for the Senate to act. The Duma’s International Relations Committee approved New START on July 8, earlier than the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and its chairman, Konstantin Kosachev, explained that the treaty was ready for consideration on the floor of the chamber, but that Russian lawmakers had decided to wait for the Senate to act first. Since international treaties are usually considered in a single reading (that was also the recommendation of the International Relations Committee), it was believed that the Duma would need only one day to finalize the process.

Yet, following the Senate vote on New START the Duma changed the usual procedure and decided to consider New START in three separate readings—delaying ratification for at least a month. The reason for the delay — and for the use of a procedure that had not been previously applied to international treaties — was explained the same day by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He blamed the delay on the US Senate and said that “had not the (Senate) attached a resolution to its approval of the treaty, we could have ratified it yesterday.” Lavrov’s criticism referred to the contents of the Senate resolution, which included various interpretations and conditions that ran counter to Russia’s understanding of the meaning of New START. (2) The previous day Lavrov said that the Duma could not proceed with ratification until it had carefully studied the text of the Senate document. (3) During the Duma’s initial floor discussion on December 24, Kosachev noted that the Senate resolution had “touched upon several key issues, including the modernization of the American nuclear triad, the ‘disparity’ in the tactical nuclear weapons stockpile, the relationship of strategic offensive weapons and missile defense” as well as a range of other issues, and consequently the Duma needed to reconsider the original text of its own ratification resolution. (4)

The first reading, which took place on December 24 (two days after the Senate vote) ended predictably – 350 legislators supported the treaty and 58 voted against it; United Russia and Spravedlivaya Rossiya (Justice for Russia) supported it while the Communist Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party voted against it. This vote sent the treaty back to the International Relations Committee. Lavrov praised this decision as “common sense” and emphasized that the Duma needed a new resolution that would be a reaction to the American document. Kosachev confirmed that while the Duma would not touch the text of the treaty, it would broaden its resolution of ratification and would probably adopt several statements to accompany it. (5)

Subsequent changes reflected close cooperation between Russia’s executive branch and parliament in contrast to the more arms-length executive-legislative relationship in the United States. While the US Senate requested information from the Obama administration, but drafted its own resolution, the Duma did not conceal the fact that representatives of the Foreign and Defense Ministries closely worked with parliamentarians on drafting the relevant documents. In a sense, the United States faced a united front of the two branches of power in Russia.

The final ratification package was approved by the International Relations Committee on January 12 and passed the second reading by the entire Duma on January 14. The second reading included two votes — on the amendments to the ratification resolution (341 votes to zero with no abstentions (6)) and on the law on ratification (349 to 57 with two abstentions).

According to Kosachev, the ratification resolution consisted of six paragraphs and two declarations. The original draft resolution consisted of only one paragraph, which, according to Kosachev, simply stated that the Duma approves ratification of the treaty). The new resolution package laid conditions for the implementation of the treaty. Kosachev emphasized that the resolution, like its US counterpart, was not intended to alter the text of New START, but only laid out conditions for the treaty’s implementation. (7)

The resolution itself is a lengthy document, but a number of elements are particularly noteworthy. (8)

A Strategic Nuclear Posture Program

The resolution obligates the Russian president to adopt, after the entry into force of New START, a strategic nuclear posture program and report annually to the Duma on the implementation of the treaty and ensure adequate funding. Relevant portions of the text are intended to mirror similar provisions in the Senate resolution and do not affect the implementation of New START.

Missile Defense

Several provisions of the resolution pertain to perhaps the most divisive issue on the US-Russian arms control agenda: missile defense. The resolution states that “the provisions of the preamble of the New START Treaty shall have indisputable significance for the understanding” of the terms of the treaty — a clear reference to the paragraph in the preamble that pertains to the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons. In a different section, the resolution says that this relationship “will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced” and the president, while implementing New START, should monitor developments in the missile defense area so that “strategic defensive arms of one party do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of (Russia’s) strategic offensive arms.” Deployment by the United States or other states “of a missile defense system capable of significantly reducing the effectiveness of the Russian Federation’s strategic nuclear force” is listed as one of the reasons that could lead to the abrogation of New START by Russia. These provisions are clearly intended to balance the view of the US Senate (which was supported by the administration) that New START does not restrict development of missile defenses in any way. While the text of the treaty does not, indeed, establish any restrictions on missile defenses, the Russian side attributes more weight to the relevant paragraph of the preamble and, although not seeking to ban missile defenses, issued a warning that at some point such defenses could be regarded as destabilizing. This is clearly intended as an attempt to set certain (undefined in the resolution itself) limits on US efforts to deploy defense against long-range ballistic missiles.

Long-Range Weapons

The resolution pays close attention to another highly controversial issue — that of conventional long-range weapons. Specifically, it instructs the president and the government of Russia to monitor the application of New START, “including (provisions) relating to counting warheads and their means of delivery” to “any new kinds of strategic-range offensive arms” and also states that “the question of applicability” of the treaty to “any new kind of strategic-range offensive arms should be resolved within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission … prior to the deployment” of such weapons. A build-up of any strategic offensive weapons (not just nuclear) by the United States or other states could constitute one of the reasons to abrogate the treaty. These provisions directly challenge the view of the Senate that conventionally armed strategic weapons are not subject to the treaty and thus accountability of such weapons is not subject to the Bilateral Commission. For more than a decade Russian military officials have been concerned about the emerging long-range conventional capability of the United States, which they believe could present a threat almost equal to that from strategic nuclear weapons. The language of the resolution apparently intends to indirectly restrain deployment of some (not all) types of such weapons by subjecting them to the limits established by the treaty, in particular the limit of 700 deployed strategic delivery vehicles.

Treaty Abrogation and “Other Countries”

In case of “extraordinary circumstances” that could lead to the abrogation of New START, the president is instructed to report to the parliament and consult with it on ways to rectify the situation. In other words, abrogation is not automatic — it leaves much to the discretion of the government. It is noteworthy that the majority of key provisions of the resolution, especially those that pertain to conditions under which Russia could consider abrogation of New START, refer not just to the United States (although it is the main target of the resolution), but also to “other countries and groups of countries.” While these “other countries” are never defined, the Duma — reflecting the concerns of Russian policymakers and military — probably means two possible developments. One is the risk of the circumvention of New START through the build-up of nuclear forces by allies of the United States, Great Britain and France. Such a scenario appears highly hypothetical, but has been present for a long time. Another, more immediate concern is the modernization of strategic weapons by China — a growing headache for Russian military planners.

Information Exchange

A provision of the resolution that could cause friction between the United States and Russia is the interpretation of New START’s obligations with respect to exchanges of telemetry information. Specifically, the resolution allows the provision of telemetry information about launches of ballistic missiles only until the self-contained dispensing mechanism (also known as the platform) that carries warheads separates from the booster; provision of any telemetry information on new types of ballistic missiles is prohibited. Here, the Duma seeks to counter the Senate’s criticism of New START for weaker provisions on the exchange of telemetry information that its predecessor, START I. Russia, in contrast, originally sought to completely drop telemetry exchanges from the treaty altogether—the final language represents a compromise that falls short of the wishes of either party. The relevant provisions in the ratification resolution reflect the Russian military’s concern that disclosing more complete telemetry data could allow the United States to “fine-tune” missile defense capabilities and intercept Russian strategic weapons. In addition to protecting the defense penetration capabilities (as well as other features) of new types of missiles, the resolution also bars disclosure of information about the maneuverable reentry vehicles (RVs) that Russia has begun (or will soon begin — the status of the program is difficult to determine from open sources) to deploy on its strategic delivery vehicles: these RVs are supposed to be able to penetrate almost any defense system. Since the treaty leaves it up to the Bilateral Consultative Commission to agree upon many of the detailed procedures governing telemetry exchanges, disagreements about their scope could complicate New START’s implementation.

Non-Strategic Weapons

The resolution states that subsequent talks on reduction of nuclear arms should “take into account the progress in the implementation of the New START Treaty” and can only be tackled within a broader strategic context. This clearly applies, among other things, to the intention of Obama administration to begin negotiations on non-strategic (tactical) nuclear weapons during the next stage of talks and appears to be consistent with statements made by Lavrov at a press conference on January 13 and during Duma hearings on New START on January 14. He said, specifically, that negotiations cannot be held on just one element of the strategic balance because it includes many other elements, such as conventional strategic weapons, space-based weapons, missile defense, and imbalance in conventional forces (in that order). (9) This provision clearly runs counter to the Senate’s insistence that negotiations on non-strategic nuclear weapons begin as soon as possible and that the large Russian superiority in this class of nuclear weapons be addressed.

During the Duma debate, the Communist Party faction, attempted to put some concrete metrics on the rather vague elements of the resolution. The effort failed in the Russia legislature, but may have inadvertently given US negotiators some very useful new information on where Russia might have flexibility in future talks, especially given that the Communist draft was developed primarily by or with assistance of hard-line retired military leaders. (10)

In particular, the Communist draft indicated the following:

  • The requirement for modernization of forces was put at no fewer than 25 new strategic missiles deployed each year.
  • US development of missile defense capability would be considered dangerous at the point that the United States had deployed 200 interceptors capable of intercepting intermediate-range ballistic missiles (effectively, SM-3 Block II interceptors whose deployment is currently scheduled for 2018).Therefore, it would appear that the United States could pursue a missile defense system without sparking serious objections from Russia until that limit is reached. This figure stands in stark — and surprising — contrast to virulent Russian criticism of a much more modest (only 10 interceptors) system the George W. Bush administration planned to deploy in Poland.
  • The level at which British and French nuclear forces would be regarded as undermining the stability of the US-Russian strategic balance was put at 600 deployed warheads combined. Once again, the consequences appear quite mild, in contrast to harsh language: in effect, this means that unless these two countries reverse current policies they need not be included into nuclear arms reduction negotiations. This actually undermines the traditional Russian position, especially with regard to non-strategic nuclear weapons.

Paradoxically, the Communists declared that they would not support New START even if their draft were accepted. Their draft was rejected, but Kosachev later said that the majority and the Communist drafts “are not mutually exclusive.” (11)

In addition to the resolution, the Duma also adopted two declarations that reinforce and detail many points contained in the resolution. The first declaration, intended for transmission to the United States during the exchange of ratification instruments (and also implicitly the broader audience of the international community), addresses the notion of strategic stability and lays down a framework for future talks on reduction of nuclear weapons.

It contains, among others, the following provisions:

  • The declaration reaffirms the Russian view of the offense-defense relationship and instructs the government to closely monitor the parameters of the US system, in particular the geographic location of its components, characteristics of its interceptors, and its possible space-based elements
  • On tactical nuclear weapons, the Duma calls on the United States to withdraw the remaining tactical nuclear weapons from Europe (estimated at fewer than 200 gravity bombs) as well as the infrastructure that could allow short-notice relocation of such weapons from the United States in the future
  • Future negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons, according to the declaration, should be conducted only as part of a broader security picture and take into account, among other issues, missile defense, conventional long-range weapons, “militarization of space” and the imbalance in conventional forces in Europe. The guiding principle here should be the “equality and the indivisibility of security.”

The other declaration is devoted to the maintenance and the modernization of Russian strategic nuclear capability and appears to reinforce the relevant elements of the main ratification resolution. The Federation Council, in preparation for its separate vote on New START—which should occur within a few days—resolved to adopt a declaration of its own repeating many key points of the Duma documents, in particular the reaffirmation of the Russian views on the relationship between offensive and defensive weapons as well as on the role of conventional strategic weapons.

The Russian parliament’s resolution on ratification of New START, which was deliberately shaped to balance and counter its counterpart adopted by US Senate, suggests that implementation of New START will not be a trivial task. In effect, the treaty did not resolve the most important controversies that exist between the two countries — missile defense, long-range conventional weapons, tactical nuclear weapons, elements of the verification regime (especially the exchange of telemetry). Each side will carefully monitor what the other will be doing throughout the duration of the treaty. The Bilateral Implementation Commission will not be simply a technical body facilitating the implementation of the treaty — it will have to engage in full-scale negotiations on issues of substance with parties often pursuing opposite positions.

The next stage of nuclear arms reduction talks is already shaping as a challenging and controversial endeavor as well because it will have to address many of the outstanding issues, on which New START has temporized or which were “swept under the carpet.” In addition, new talks will probably have to tackle the issue of “third parties” — nuclear weapons states that have traditionally remained outside the process, most significantly China and, to a smaller extent, Great Britain and France. Even before they sit down to these new talks, however, negotiators may have their work cut out for them.


(1) In Russia, the new treaty is usually called START III. The designation “New START” became customary in the United States because it helps avoid confusion between the new treaty and consultations in the late 1990s, which are often referred to as START III.
(2) “Resoluytsiya Senata SShA Zamedlila REtifikatsiyu Dogovora SNV v RF — Lavrov” (Lavrov: The US Senate Resolution on START has Delayed Ratification in Russia), RIA-Novosti, December 24, 2010.
(3) “Rossiya Eshche ne Poluchala ot SShA REzoluytsiyu Soglasheniya po SNV” (Russia Has Not Yet Received the START Resolution from the United States), RIA-Novosti, December 23, 2010.
(4) “GD Odobrila Dogovor SNV, Vtoroe Chtenie Mozhet Proiti v Yanvare” (State Duma has Approved the START Treaty; the Second Reading Could Take Place in January), RIA-Novosti, December 24, 2010.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Communist and Liberal-Democratic legislators did not vote after their earlier attempt to remove the treaty from consideration failed.
(7) “Rezoluytsiya Senata SShA po SNV-3 Ni k Chemu ne Obyazyvaet Rossiyu — Kosachev” (Kosachev: The Senate Resolution on START III Does Not Establish Any Limitations on Russia), RIA-Novosti, January 12, 2011.
(8) See the unofficial translation of the resolution made by the US Department of State, Key elements were also disclosed by Chairman of the International Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev after its adoption on January 12: “Gosduma Utochnit Mekhanizm REalizatsii Dogovora po SNV” (The State Duma Will Specify the Mechanism of Implementation of the START Treaty), RIA-Novosti, January 14, 2011; see also Yekaterina Vinokurova, “Gosduma Ogovorila SNV” (State Duma Has Qualified START), Gazeta.Ru, January 14, 2011.
(9) “Stenogramma Vystupleniya Ministra Inostrannykh Del Rossii S.V. Lavrova na Plenarnom Zasedanii Gosudarstvennoi Dumy Federalnogo Sobraniya Rossiiskoi Federatsii npo Novomy Dogovoru o SNV, Moskva, 14 Yanvarya 2011 goda” (Transcript of a Statement by Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov at a Plenary Meeting of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation on the New START Treaty, January 14, 2011), Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, January 14, 2001, document 20-14-01-2011,
(10) “KPRF Predlagaet Vmeste s SNV-3 Prinyat Postanovlenie o Natsbezopasnosti” (Communist Party Proposes to Adopt a Statement on National Security Together with START III), RIA-Novosti, January 12, 2011.
(11) “GD Prizovet Yadernye Strany Prisoedinitsya k Sokrashcheniyu Etogo Oruzhiya” (The State Duma Will Call on Nuclear States to Joint the Reduction of These Weapons), RIA-Novosti, January 20, 2011.

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