Russia pushes toward approval of nuclear arms pact

By Maria Tsvetkova

MOSCOW (BestGrowthStock) – Russia’s parliament gave preliminary approval to a landmark nuclear arms reduction treaty with the United States Friday, supporting ratification of the new START pact in the first of three required votes.

The vote, in the final minutes of the last session before a lengthy holiday break, came hours after President Dmitry Medvedev praised his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama as a man of his word for winning a tough fight for Senate approval earlier in the week.

“(Obama)…fulfills his promises,” Medvedev said in an end-of-year interview with Russia’s top three television channels.

“In rather difficult circumstances, he was able to push through the ratification of the paramount START document which will ensure our security in the coming years,” he said.

The treaty, signed by Medvedev and Obama in April, cleared its first hurdle in Russia’s parliament with a 350-58 vote in a 450-seat State Duma dominated by the ruling United Russia party.

The pact, which arms control experts say Russia is all but certain to ratify despite vocal criticism from some lawmakers, will cut the number of strategic nuclear weapons deployed by the Cold War foes and cement improving ties between the two powers.

The Senate approved the treaty Wednesday after contentious debate over its long-term implications for U.S. security, delivering Obama a major victory during the ‘Lame Duck’ session ahead of the holidays.

During hours of debate before the Duma vote, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned lawmakers failure to approve the pact would upset the balance of power between the nuclear-armed nations and isolate Russia from the international community.

The treaty “will bring Russian-American relations to a qualitatively new level, creates a balance of interests and is welcomed by the entire global community,” Lavrov said.

Its rejection “would deal a serious blow to the reputation of Russia,” he said.

MISSILE DEFENCES

Lavrov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov assured Russia’s parliament, which usually serves as a rubber stamp for Kremlin foreign policy aims, that the treaty would not undermine Russia’s security.

Russian lawmakers planned to return to the ratification debate in January after a holiday. The ratification law faces two more votes in the Duma and one in the upper house before going to Medvedev for his signature.

Moscow is concerned that Russia’s military might could eventually be undercut by U.S. missile defense plans, which Obama has said will not be restricted by the pact.

The preamble of the treaty cites an interrelationship between offensive and defensive weapons. But it places no limits on missile defenses, and Russia stressed it could withdraw if a U.S. missile shield weakened its nuclear deterrent.

The treaty will cut long-range, strategic nuclear weapons deployed by Russia and the United States to no more than 1,550 on each side within seven years. Deployed missile launchers will be cut to no more than 700 on each side.

Russia currently has an estimated 2,600 deployed strategic warheads, while the United States has 1,968.

The agreement also creates an inspection and verification process to replace the one that expired nearly a year ago with the end of the original START accord, leaving the nations with decreased ability to keep tabs on each other’s arsenals.

(Writing by Thomas Grove; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Russia pushes toward approval of nuclear arms pact