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CNN Today

Russian Lawmakers Ratify START II Treaty

Aired April 14, 2000 - 1:02 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The new president of Russia did something today that his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, never could: persuade Russian lawmakers to ratify the START II treaty. The second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty between Washington and Moscow was signed in 1993, ratified by the U.S. Senate in '96, but it languished in Moscow where the communist-dominated lower house of parliament considered it a threat to Russian security. The agreement would cut the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals roughly in half. It would limit both nations to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads each by the end of 2007. It's passage in the Duma marks a major victory for Vladimir Putin.

And CNN's Steve Harrigan joins us now from Moscow to tell us all about it.

Steve, what does it mean?

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, it is a victory for Russia's new president-elect, Vladimir Putin, and, really, it couldn't come at a better time for Mr. Putin. It's his first major initiative and it happens just as he's about to leave for his first visit to the West since being elected president. Mr. Putin heads to London on Sunday.

Basically, this is a deal that has sat for a long time in Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, for a number of reasons: first off, because of conflicts between Russia and the West. The START II treaty came up for a debate but then was jettisoned during Western airstrikes against Iraq, then yet again a second time during the conflict in Yugoslavia. But, really, it was an indicator, too, of problems within Russia, problems between the Russian president and his parliament, really a victim of the battles between Boris Yeltsin and the communist-dominated Duma, the lower house of parliament here, the infighting between the two sides that often paralyzed the Russian government for weeks at a time. Really, it was a victim of that as well.

Basically, this has been a battle between the Russian president and the parliament. But, really, it shows the changing scene here in Russia. Now we have a new president in Russia, a popularly elected president. Vladimir Putin got more than 50 percent of the vote. He also has his own party in the parliament, the more moderate Unity Party. So, really, it's a sign of the weakening influence of the communists, a sign of changing relations here between the president and the parliament.

Also, what's next ahead? Well, basically, from the Russian side, they say what's next on the agenda is START III, even more arms cuts. Mr. Putin's made a big deal of revitalizing the military. It might seem strange or contradictory that he is pursuing arms cuts so vigorously. That's really dictated by economics. Russia has a lot of aging missiles that it has to either replace or let go bad. By lowering the level, by pursuing arms cuts, Mr. Putin is trying to maintain some kind of parity with the West. So, START III talks next up on the agenda for Russia.

I'm Steve Harrigan, CNN, reporting live from Moscow.

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