Russia eyes final nuclear arms pact vote

Russia was on course Friday to ratify a landmark nuclear disarmament pact by the end of the month after introducing non-binding amendments that countered those made by the US Senate.

A top lawmaker said one of those additions spelled out Moscow’s right to withdraw from the treaty if Washington ever deployed a missile defence shield powerful enough to resist Russia’s vast nuclear arsenal.

Russia’s State Duma lower house of parliament easily passed the new START agreement — the first between the two former Cold War foes in two decades — in an initial vote held December 24.

But lawmakers have since added some 20 pages of amendments to the treaty’s ratification document that are meant as a counterpoint to the changes that US senators made before ratifying the treaty last month.

A top Duma deputy said those revisions now suited the pro-Kremlin party that dominates the chamber and that lawmakers would have no problem approving the pact before passing it on to the upper house — where quick passage is certain.

“I think that our third reading will happen on January 25,” Konstantin Kosachev told Moscow Echo radio

The ruling United Russia party of which Kosachev is a member has the necessary votes to the pass the pact without support from opposition Communist Party that initially voted against the treaty.

The new START agreement limits each side to 1,550 deployed warheads and 700 deployed long-range missiles — including those fired from submarines — and heavy bombers.

The two sides may also have up to 800 deployed and non-deployed launchers and bombers.

But US senators argue that the treaty does nothing to prevent the United States from deploying a new missile defence system that Russia also fears may one day be expanded to hurt its own nuclear capabilities.

The senators introduced language into the ratification document confirming the United States’ right to deploy such a system and also arm long-range missiles with regular warheads that Russia fears may be used in regional wars.

Kosachev said the Russian changes were meant primarily as a warning to the United States.

He stressed that missile defence shield “does not threaten our capabilities in the matter in which it is being announced (by the United States) today.”

“But what follows … are exceptional circumstances under which the treaty may cease to exist,” Kosachev added.

The White House argues that the system is meant to defend its allies in Europe from missiles that might one day come in from North Korea or Iran.

But Kosachev said nothing can at this stage prevent the United States from one day making the shield far more efficient.

“So even now, at this stage, we have honestly warned the Americans that one of the exceptional circumstances includes qualitative change in the nature of the US anti-missile defences.”

He added that some US senators were calling on US President Barack Obama “not to give up to the Russians and to develop these systems in full.”