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Russians Lose Faith After Republicans Take Control of House

Super Tuesday 2010 ended in Republican replacements of key seats in Congress, leaving the future of the New START Treaty uncertain. President Barack Obama’s efforts to strengthen ties with Russia depend upon the ratification of the New START Treaty by the United States Senate. President Obama needs three specific policy changes to be supported by Congress: a civilian nuclear agreement; a repeal of Cold War-era trade restrictions on Russia; and an arms control treaty to reduce arms and resume weapons inspections. In Moscow, all eyes are on Washington, as Russians weigh American promises against American actions.

While President Obama’s policy changes were not guaranteed in a Democrat-controlled Congress, they seem doomed in a Congress where the Republicans control the House and have increased seats in the Senate. The ratification of the New START Treaty is necessary not only to continue arms control of nuclear weapons, but to establish definite friendly ties with Russia. President Obama and President Medvedev are both relying on the New START Treaty as a building block for future collaboration, with the United States focused on gaining Russian support in discouraging Iran from building up its nuclear arms program, among other concerns. President Obama has attempted to frame the issue as one of national security, not bipartisanship, and he has been pushing for a lame-duck Senate vote of the treaty, to avoid a reset of votes in the new session.

As the United States Congress resettles after Super Tuesday, Russia’s Duma has reviewed its own support of the New START Treaty after Tuesday’s Republican victories. The Arms Control Association is concerned as it has been almost a year since the first START treaty expired, leaving an extended period of time without information on the Russian arms program, as inspections cannot resume until the New START Treaty is ratified. As the 90-day timer on the treaty can only run while Congress is in session, there are two weeks left to decide the immediate future of the New START treaty, and Obama cannot risk waiting for the new year to restart this particular effort. The longer the Senate delays formalizing this agreement with Russia, the more uneasy the Russians become about American intentions and the President’s power of action.


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