Russia Ratifies U.S. Nuclear Disarmament Treaty
Russia's upper house of parliament Wednesday ratified the new U.S. nuclear disarmament treaty, the final step in approving the first nuclear pact between the two former Cold War foes in 20 years.
All 137 senators in the Federation Council upper house approved the new START treaty, which U.S. President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev signed in Prague on April 8, 2010.
The new Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (START) reduces old warhead ceilings by 30 percent and limits each side to 700 deployed long-range missiles and heavy bombers.
Russia's State Duma lower house of parliament backed the measure in the third and final reading on Tuesday and the U.S. Senate ratified the pact last month.
The original 1991 START agreement expired at the end of 2009 amid differences in readings of what constituted real 21st century threats.
Those differences remained throughout the tortuous negotiating and approval process as well, with both the Senate and Russian lower house adopting a series of non-binding amendments that put their own spin on the new pact.
One of the most fundamental disagreements concerns the Obama administration's decision to go ahead with plans to deploy a missile defense shield over Europe despite Moscow's objections to the plan.
Russia has since modified its stance, saying that it was ready to see the shield go up, but only if it was giving an equal say in how it operates -- and in determining which nations posed a real threat to the West.
Obama and NATO have responded with extreme caution, noting that a joint system would require an unprecedented level of data and intelligence sharing and overcoming various technological stumbling blocs.
Moscow and Washington held a new round of missile defense talks last week, but those meetings ended with Medvedev once again reaffirming that Russia would be forced to deploy more nuclear weapons if it was left out of the shield.
Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov reaffirmed that message before Russian senators on Wednesday, telling the chamber that the country would be forced to deploy its own missile systems if its stance was ignored by the West.
"As far as our own ballistic missile defenses are concerned, we are continuing to develop them just as we had done in the past," Serdyukov told the Federation Council upper house.
Russia's dwindling Communist opposition has vociferously opposed the START treaty, arguing that it would require Moscow to eliminate weapons that made it a superpower.
There was not such debate in the Federation Council, which is composed entirely of government appointees.
But the director of a Moscow institute in charge of developing new long-range missiles said Russia was preparing to dramatically boost production in the coming years.
"We have two years ... to prepare ourselves for a manifold boost in the production (of missile) parts," Yury Solomonov, head of the Moscow Institute of Thermal Technology that is developing the Bulava missile, told Interfax-AVN.