Russian Duma could ratify START within days

By Lidia Kelly

MOSCOW (BestGrowthStock) – Russian lawmakers said they could approve a nuclear arms reduction pact that is crucial to the “reset” in ties with the United States as early as Friday if a successful Senate vote left the terms of the treaty intact.

Swift Russian ratification of the New START treaty would shore up efforts to set long-strained relations on a positive track, increasing trust between Cold War foes bristling with nuclear weapons and sending the world a signal of unity.

It would be a victory for Presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev, who signed the treaty in April and have made improving ties between Moscow and Washington — increasing strained under their predecessors — major foreign policy goals.

The U.S. Senate voted 71-26 on Wednesday to approve the pact, which both presidents have called an essential foundation for further cuts in the world’s biggest arsenals and a boon for efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide.

The pact must also be ratified by Russia’s parliament to enter into force.

Lower house speaker Boris Gryzlov said the house, or State Duma could potentially approve the treaty on Friday if Russia were satisfied that the U.S. Senate’s resolution on ratification did not change the pact — the product of a year of tough talks.

“There is information that the resolution has a series of conditions attached,” Gryzlov said in televised comments. “If these conditions do not affect the text of the agreement, then we could ratify the treaty tomorrow.”

If the treaty failed, it would batter the reputations of both presidents and badly cloud the “reset,” throwing increased Russian cooperation with Washington on issues such as Iran’s nuclear programme and the Afghan war into doubt.

But analysts and arms control experts said Russian approval was all but certain.

“It will now be ratified for sure,” veteran Soviet diplomat and arms treaty negotiator Roland Timerbayev told Reuters.

The Kremlin-backed United Russia party dominates both houses of parliament, so approval is guaranteed as long as President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seen as the country’s paramount leader, support it.

“If the Kremlin wants do to it as quickly as possible then it can be done in one day,” Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, told Reuters.

The new START 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.

It will establish binding rules for monitoring and verification, crucial after the expiry of the START I treaty a year ago left the nations guessing about movements within other’s arsenals.

Securing the treaty is important for Medvedev, who observers say has little to show for more than two years as president — and whose embrace of Obama’s “reset” campaign has ruffled the feathers of Russian hawks.

Medvedev welcomed U.S. Senate approval and “expressed hope that the Duma and Federation Council (Russia’s upper parliament house) will be ready to examine this issue and also ratify the document,” his spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said on Thursday.

But she also said lawmakers would need time to study the U.S. resolution on ratification before making a decision.

Duma international affairs committee chairman Konstantin Kosachyov said it would be “technically possible” for the lower house to ratify the treaty on Friday if lawmakers decide no changes are needed in the Russian resolution on ratification.

Any conditions or declarations attached to the treaty could prompt responses in Russia’s ratification law, delaying a vote, he said.

Lukyanov said Russia would likely emphasize, as it did in a declaration that accompanied the treaty in April, that Moscow could withdraw from the pact if U.S. missile defense systems develop into a security threat for Russia.

Medvedev stressed on Wednesday that ties could sour badly if Russia is not given a strong enough voice in plans for a European missile shield in the coming years.

But Timerbayev said no side documents would block approval of the treaty.

“These resolutions are the opinions of the Duma or the Senate — important views maybe — but they don’t affect the substance of the treaty.”

Gryzlov said Russia expected to receive the U.S. Senate resolution text within hours, RIA reported.

(Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Russian Duma could ratify START within days