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Analysis & Opinion
23.12.10 Litmus Treaty
By Tom Balmforth

Russia and the United States are on the cusp of a major and tangible breakthrough in relations, after the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) was ratified in the U.S. Senate yesterday, with the State Duma poised to reciprocate. Key for both Moscow and Washington, albeit for different reasons, the treaty is a long-coming foreign policy triumph for President Barack Obama. American-Russian business lobbies are hoping that this breakthrough could pave the way for more headway in ties, as they point to the abrogation of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.
On December 22 American senators voted 71 to 26 in favor of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), easily clearing the two-thirds majority required, despite fears that the Republican comeback at November’s Congressional elections could halt the warming in ties between the former Cold War foes.

The Democrats were forced to accept two minor Republican amendments, which are not expected to irk Russia’s rubber stamp State Duma, although the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party have vowed to vote against it. The new START, which replaces the 1991 treaty that expired a year ago, limits strategic weapons stockpiles to 1,550, requiring both sides to cut some 30 percent of their warheads.

But although the new accord, agreed between Russian and American executives on April 8 in Prague, was praised as “historic” at the time, its ratification by the legislative foundered as U.S. Republicans and Democrats bickered, forcing the latter to pull out all the stops in lobbying. Projected spending on America’s nuclear arsenal over the next ten years is estimated at $85 billion.

Both Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev have praised the breakthrough. "This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades, and it will make us safer and reduce our nuclear arsenals, along with Russia’s. With this treaty, our inspectors will also be back on the ground at Russian nuclear bases. So we will be able to trust but verify," Obama said yesterday.

Medvedev sent an unambiguous message to Russia’s lower and upper house when his spokeswoman today told news agencies that Medvedev hopes they "will be ready to consider and ratify that document.”

Speaker of Parliament Boris Gryzlov then speculated on a quick ratification once the documents are double-checked. "There is information that the resolution contains several conditions," Gryzlov said, RIA Novosti reported. "Unless the conditions concern the wording of the treaty, we may ratify the treaty tomorrow (Friday)…However, if there have been changes in the text of the treaty, we will have to work on the issue," he added.
Smart ties

“Russia and the United States have different reasons for wanting this deal, but it really is important for both of them,” said Alexander Konovalov, the president of the Moscow-based Institute for Strategic Studies. The deal – as soon as it is ratified by Russia – will take the pressure off Moscow in the costly upkeep of its aging nuclear arsenal, while the carrot for Washington is a strategically powerful Russia content to help it in its foreign policy aims in Afghanistan and Iran, he said.

Since warmer ties have taken root under Obama and Medvedev, America and Russia have negotiated a deal for non-lethal U.S. cargo to transit through Russia to Afghanistan, and come into line over sanctions on Iran, a major foreign policy headache for Washington. Still, the question marks hovering over the outstanding START ratification could have rolled back strides in ties. By November the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee was already threatening to withdraw its recommendation for Russia’s Duma and Federation Council to ratify the deal.

With START now ratified, Washington has passed a crucial litmus test for its commitment to the “reset” relations, say analysts, and it is particularly positive for Moscow-Washington ties, considering that it survived interparty squabbling. Americans today may have rolled their eyes when Anna Chapman, expelled from the United States in this summer’s Cold War-style spy rumble, was appointed to a position on the public council for Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard), the youth wing of the United Russia ruling party. But relations are edging forward. In particular, ratification is a great victory for Obama, whose team has lobbied hard for the deal.

Adjusting ties

Buoyed by the deal, business lobbies are holding out for further commercial breakthroughs. “Ratification of the New Start Treaty clears the way for the American business community to advocate to the U.S. Congress that it should abrogate the 1976 Jackson Vanik amendment’s application to Russia, and grant Russia Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR),” the American Chamber of Commerce wrote in a note to members today. The outdated U.S. Jackson Vanik trade act has been an obstacle to Russia’s joining the World Trade Organization.

But Ovanes Oganisian, an analyst for Renaissance Capital, dismissed the notion that strategic deals are linked to commercial deals, although he expressed hope that the amendment would be abrogated when Russia joins the WTO, probably next year, no less than 18 years after starting its accession bid. “It’s at a point now when all the Western and WTO countries want to see Russia as a member. They don’t want to have to pay all sorts of taxes when they export stuff to Russia,” said Oganisian. Georgia has raised objections to Russia’s prospective accession, although analysts do not envisage this as a serious problem, provided Washington is onside. With collaboration between United States and Russia on strategic weapons so far, this agreement looks more and more likely.
The source
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