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Most Russian Experts React Positively to Nuclear Arms Accord - 2002-05-24

Russian officials and arms control experts have been praising the nuclear arms reduction treaty signed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Just a year ago it seemed arms control talks between Russia and the United States were going nowhere. America pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, and Washington gave no sign it was willing to take on any other arms control agreements.

For its part, Russia was furious about America's decision to scrap the ABM treaty as well as Washington's plans to build a national missile defense system.

Yet the two former adversaries have now signed a new accord that reduces each country's arsenal of nuclear warheads by two-thirds, an achievement many are hailing as remarkable.

Alexandre Pikayev, an arms control expert with the Carnegie Endowment here in Moscow, is one of those who views the new treaty as an important new step in U.S.-Russian relations. "This treaty marked an end of a deep deadlock in the U.S. - Russian strategic relationship that had developed over the past decade," he said. "And this treaty is actually the first treaty which has a good chance to enter into force since the START I treaty was signed in July, 1991, when the Soviet Union still existed."

Other analysts agree the new treaty is potentially historic. For Viktor Kremenyuk of the USA-Canada Institute, as significant as the treaty is, the accompanying document outlining a new strategic relationship between the two countries may be even more important.

"Without such a paper on the strategic relationship there could be the impression that the treaty is non-binding or less binding," he said. "But together with this declaration, it gives evidence that both sides are moving towards a kind of relationship that exists between nuclear powers like between France and the United States."

Not everyone supports the treaty. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called it a treasonous document that sells out Russian interests for no gain. The Putin administration rejects that, saying it meets Russia's national interests but does not compromise Russian security.

While there is some domestic opposition to the new treaty, most analysts here do not believe it poses much of a threat to President Putin, who enjoys extremely high popularity ratings for the way he is running the country.

But, along with the buoyant mood over the new agreement, there are still reminders of issues on which the two countries disagree.