Debate over START in Senate “should not affect Russia-US agreements”
Moscow and Washington have to ratify the treaty signed in Prague in April by the Russian and US presidents. The previous arms control treaty expired on December 5, 2009. If adopted, New START would limit each country’s strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550. The current ceiling is 2,200 warheads. The document, however, allows Moscow to withdraw from the agreement if the US starts to deploy elements of missile defense in Europe. The Republicans in the Senate want the agreement to be cleansed of any links between strategic offensive arms and missile defense.Obama said in a letter to US Senators late last week that the treaty would not hinder US missile defense plans. The new START “places no limitations on the development or deployment of our missile-defense programs,” he wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. However, McConnell described the verification provisions in the agreement as “inadequate” and said he could not support the treaty. On Saturday, Republicans tried to amend the preamble that allegedly allows Russia to withdraw from the treaty and suggested that the talks on the agreement be reopened. The Democrats deflected the initiative in a 59-37 vote against the amendment by Senator John McCain.The US debate over the preamble, however, may affect the process of the ratification in Russia. Moscow had warned the US and NATO that any move to create a new missile defense shield for Europe without Russia’s participation may lead to a new arms race. Although President Obama had scrapped the missile defense project developed by the previous US administration, he pledged to consider a new project. It envisages, in particular, the deployment of interceptor missiles in Romania in 2015 and in Poland in 2018. The debate in the Senate will continue until Tuesday. If the document is not ratified during the current session, it will be considered next year by the Senate in which the Democrats have fewer seats.Russia should not be worried by Obama’s letter regarding missile defense shield in Romania and Poland, believes Aleksandr Konovalov, the president of the Institute of Strategic Assessments. The US leader’s statements will not affect the bilateral agreements of Moscow and Washington, the analyst told Ekho Moskvy radio. Meanwhile, the lower house of the Russian parliament, State Duma, may ratify the treaty by the end on this year. Although the treaty has not been ratified, Russia and the US continue to notify each other about test launches of ballistic missiles, Sergey Karakaev, the commander of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces said last week.Political analyst Dmitry Souslov, from the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, suggested the Republicans’ aim is to undermine Obama’s presidency and sabotage his plans for reset with Russia. “This treaty is one of the major policy achievements of the Obama administration,” Suslov said. “By killing this treaty they want, first, to kill the reset, and the START treaty is the main symbol of that; and second, they want to show Obama as a weak president, as a president who can’t guarantee the fulfillment of the commitments that he has made.”
Although Russia insists there should be no amendments to the treaty, the Republicans are trying to introduce some, including minor ones such as the number of missile launchers. Many of these amendments are designed to make a political point, claims Joel Rubin, deputy director of the National Security Network in Washington. “[The Republicans are] attempting to either embarrass the administration [of Obama] or cause debate, hoping they could bring others to the side of the rejection of the treaty. These are all failing. They need to get a majority vote, and the Democrats, as pointed out, have 85 out of the 100 votes right now. So they’re not making much headway,” he told RT.