Russia's lower house ratifies US nuclear pact
Russia's lower house of parliament on Tuesday ratified the first nuclear disarmament pact with the United States in two decades in a landslide vote that cemented the sides' recent "reset" in ties.
The State Duma voted 350-96 for the new START treaty in the third and final hearing before passing it on to the Federation Council upper house for a Wednesday debate.
The US Senate backed the first nuclear arms agreement since the Cold War era last month. The original 1991 pact expired at the end of 2009 amid differences in readings of what constituted real 21st century threats.
But the Duma made clear that the treaty could only function if the United States did not push ahead with its plans to develop missile defences -- a system that Russia has fought for years.
"The State Duma proceeds from the assumption that the new START treaty can only function and be viable under conditions in which there is no qualitative or quantitative buildup of US missile defence systems, deployed independently or jointly with other countries," the Russian statement said.
The chamber backed START after quickly rejecting a Communist Party proposal to bin a treaty that US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8, 2010.
"We have no trust in the United States," said populist lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky before the vote. "It is dangerous to be signing agreements with them -- they hate us."
Russia's procedure-laden approach has seen the final START votes pushed back until Obama's annual State of the Union message -- a Tuesday speech he was expected to use to highlight his ability to engage Moscow.
But the historic new round of nuclear cutbacks comes only after the world's two nuclear superpowers essentially agreed to each interpret the treaty in their own way.
The United States sees START -- which reduces old warhead ceilings by 30 percent and limits each side to 700 deployed long-range missiles and heavy bombers -- as a concession to Russia that opens up room for new talks.
It will allow Russia to take its ageing weapons out of commission while keeping parity with the United States for the decade that the treaty remains in effect.
Yet Washington has made clear that the pact will not limit its own ability to deploy a missile defence shield over Europe or develop fast-strike weapons that could reduce US dependence on nuclear arms.
The Obama administration further wants to force Moscow into a new round of disarmament negotiations that focus on short-range nuclear missiles in which Russia has a distinct advantage.
The prospects of those talks dimmed after Russia's top diplomat said Moscow was not yet ready to push cuts further than what the two presidents agreed to after years of tortuous negotiations.
Yet Russia's parliament has packaged the treaty along with a series of strident declarations that directly contradict the United States' military goals.
The Duma went beyond missile defences to note that any weapons developed under the Pentagon's Prompt Global Strike plan -- which primarily involve lasers and particle beams -- should also count against the limits set by START.
And it insisted that future short-range nuclear missile negotiations should also include talks on potential US plans to "militarize space" and press ahead with Washington's advantage in non-nuclear forces.
The Duma also took the unusual step of introduced a statement saying that any US violations would prompt Russia to "expand its military and technological cooperation with Ukraine."
The former Soviet republic has had temperamental relations with its former Communist master that depended the type of government in charge in Kiev.
© 2011 AFP