- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

President Bush achieved virtually everything he wanted in a nuclear-arms treaty with Russia, which offers next to nothing for Russian President Vladimir Putin except short-term political cover, analysts said yesterday.

"The U.S. ran the table on the Russians. I don't see anything in the treaty the Russians really wanted," said John Wolfsthal, an associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Russia acquiesced on a number of issues, including its desire for the pact to be permanent. As written, the treaty to cut long-range nuclear weapons by two-thirds expires the day the cuts are completed in 2012.

"It is essentially legally binding mush. It is an agreement without constraint, and they are reductions without permanence," said Mr. Wolfsthal, whose organization seeks to promote U.S. cooperation and engagement with other nations.

For months, Russia insisted the United States destroy its warheads rather than store them. The proposed treaty allows storage of warheads.

Russia also wanted the treaty to include limits on nuclear-weapon delivery systems. No such language will be included in the treaty, which Mr. Bush said he will sign when he meets with Mr. Putin in Moscow on May 24. It must then be approved by the U.S. Senate and the Russian Duma.

The Bush administration yielded in just one area: making the treaty written rather than verbal, said analysts who are searching for Mr. Putin's motive in agreeing to the accord.

"The agreement reflects the U.S. negotiating position almost entirely," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

Mr. Kimball said the Russian stance is born out of necessity, not desire.

"They think it's better to engage the U.S. on strategic-arms talks rather than to disagree to the extent that the dialogue breaks down. They're not in a position of strength," he said.

Mr. Putin realizes his political future is tied to the United States, said Mr. Wolfsthal.

"He maintains the surface appearance of nuclear parity, and that's very important for him politically," he said.

When the Bush administration first announced its plan to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, Russia floated 1,500 warheads as a target level. But the treaty sets the number at 1,700 to 2,200 each down from stockpiles of 6,000 to 7,000 warheads each. And at just three pages, the document is vague about how each side will achieve the levels and who will verify the reductions.

The Russians wanted transparency and verification that warheads were being eliminated. "They got none of that," Mr. Wolfsthal said.

The Russians wanted a legally binding statement that missile defenses which the Bush administration is pursuing despite cries of unilateralism will not be designed to undercut the Russian nuclear deterrent. They didn't get it.

Mr. Wolfsthal said Mr. Putin simply had no choice in the matter. "He knows he's got a weak hand. He's playing it as well as he can, but he's decided, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. This gets him out in front of the political elite. He's a little vulnerable there."

Mr. Putin agreed to the nuclear-arms reduction as well as the U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in order to move forward with his other priorities, chief among them the integration of Russia with the West.

"What he really wants to talk about are economic integration, political integration, technical integration, security integration. Then he can say, 'Look, I've given you this, I've given you that, now here's what I'm interested in,'" Mr. Wolfsthal said.

Thus, he said, the Russians focused on securing a full-blown treaty, which allows them to dedicate money toward the transformation of their Cold War-era military and to rebuilding its flagging economy.


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