Russia Frustrated With START Debate, Could Damage “Reset”

By Jared

Nov 17, 2010 3:42pm

ABC News' Alexander Marquardt reports:

MOSCOW — There’s no debate over the contents of New START on this side of the pond.  No need, as Secretary Clinton put it in March, for Rahm Emanuel to come to Moscow to whip up votes in the Duma.  If the Kremlin wants the treaty ratified, it gets ratified.  Moscow and Washington agreed they would ratify the treaty at the same time so the Russians are sitting and waiting for the Senate to get it done.

But they’re realizing that the chances of the Senate ratifying it in the lame duck session are quickly fading, if not dead already.  They also believe that a prolonged debate in the Senate could seriously harm the “reset” in US-Russia relations and have broader policy implications.

Read more about the START treaty HERE.

“One should agree with Joe Biden who fears that due to procrastinations with the ratification, the United States may lose Moscow's vital support in tackling the problem of Iran and in the war in Afghanistan," Mikhail Margelov, the head of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee – Sen. John Kerry’s counterpart – told the Interfax news agency today.

 “We are speaking not only of a document meeting the interests of Russia and the United States. The future of the reset process which implies the development of a partnership on security issues depends on the ratification of the treaty in one way or another,” he added.

Margelov’s counterpart on the Duma’s international affairs committee – the lower house – said that Republican gains in the midterm elections could compromise the reset.

“We are concerned that now given the fact that there is a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which is in opposition to President Obama, this will interfere with his initiative to restart Russian-American relations,” Konstantin Kosachev said Tuesday.

“The problem is not that [New START] is a bad document, but the fact that the [Senate] Republicans refuse to ratify the document. We are certain that these questions should not have anything to do with party politics.”

The question now is whether to invest in the reset or treat it as a transient moment, one leading Russian analyst says.  “It’s back to the question of whether the US treats us as an adversary that needs to be contained or whether we can be partners,” Dmitri Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center told ABC News. “That debate is happening within the Russian councils of government.”

It would not be the death of the reset if New START goes the way of past failed arms treaties, Trenin argues, “the New START is more a symbol than the heart.”  But he says it would be a serious blow to the perception of the US in Russia, thanks in a large part to Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl who has battled the Obama administration over the treaty.  “Kyl stands for those within the United States who have a very skeptical view of Russia and who would pursue policies towards Russia that were last seen under George W. Bush,” Trenin said.

For its part, the Foreign Ministry is publicly optimistic, saying they think there’s enough time in the lame duck session to get the treaty ratified.  However, if the vote doesn’t happen this year, it “would not be the best outcome of the work we have done,” said deputy Foreign Ministry Sergei Ryabkov.

–Alexander Marquardt

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