Russia’s Process for Ratification of the New START Treaty

By Kingston Reif and Jessica Estanislau Now that the U.S. Senate has approved the New START treaty, the next step on the way to final entry into force (and the resumption of on-site inspections of U.S. and Russian deployed nuclear forces) is approval by the Russian legislature – aka the Federal Assembly of Russia.  The Federal Assembly consists of a lower house (the Duma) and an upper house (the Federation Council).  Russian law requires that both houses approve the treaty by a majority vote.  All indications are that this will happen before the end of the month. Don’t expect a knock down, drag out fight over the treaty in Russia (as was the case in the U.S.).  The Russian legislative and executive branches are tied much more closely at the hip than their U.S. counterparts.  In other words, what Medvedev and Putin want, Medvedev and Putin will get.  And they want New START. Which raises the question: Why has Russia waited until now to act on the treaty?  When the two sides signed New START last April, Moscow made it very clear that the Russian parliament would be synchronizing its ratification process with the U.S. process.  The reason for this is that the Russians feared that if they quickly ratified the treaty only to see the U.S. Senate eventually reject it, they would be the ones left holding the bag. While the Russian legislature’s approval of the treaty remains assured, it has adjusted the review process to address the conditions attached to the New START resolution of ratification by the U.S. Senate... In July 2010, the international affairs committee and the defense committee in the Russian Duma recommended that the Duma ratify New START (without any reservations) at around the same time the U.S. Senate gives its approval.  However, in the aftermath of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s action on the resolution of ratification, which appended a total of 26 conditions, understandings, and declarations about how it interpreted the treaty, and due to continued delays in the full Senate’s consideration of the agreement, both Duma committees retracted their endorsement in order to reconsider the treaty. Following the full U.S. Senate’s approval of New START on December 22, the Duma quickly gave its preliminary approval on December 24th by a vote of 350-58.   Prior to the Duma’s second reading of the treaty on January 14, Russian lawmakers added six articles to the ratification text that outline the Duma's understanding of the treaty. Further tweaks to the text could be made in the lead up to the third and final vote in the Duma scheduled for January 25 or 26, after which the Federation Council is expected to give its prompt approval to the treaty. (UPDATE 1/21: In addition to the ratification text responding to the U.S. resolution of ratification, the Duma international affair committee has also prepared a supplementary statement "On the Provision of Combat Readiness and Development of the Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces, the Nuclear Arms Segment and Defense Plants Operating in it.") Pavel and Jeffrey have posted a translation and some analysis of the Russian ratification text.   Nothing issued by either side changes the actual text of the treaty. From our vantage point most of it amounts to rhetorical throat-clearing in response to the Senate’s action on the treaty – save for perhaps the statement in Article 2 re: new kinds of strategic offensive weapons.   The parts on Russian strategic force modernization and missile defense are nothing new.  And it’s interesting that the ratification text describes the controversial New START preamble as having “indisputable significance” (according to the State Department’s translation) as opposed to being “legally binding.”  Or is this simply a distinction without a difference? In any event, as Pavel notes, “nothing [in the ratification text] strikes me as irreconcilable.” Some New START critics have already latched on to the Russian ratification process to claim that their fears about the treaty are being realized.  NoH will touch on these claims in a later post.  In the meantime, look for Presidents Obama and Medvedev (or duly designated ambassadors) to exchange instruments of ratification sometime in late January or February, perhaps on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference to be held February 4-6.