The first draft of the New START ratification law that emerged from the Duma committees was very brief - the entire document included one paragraph:

Ratify the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the United States on measures for further reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms, signed in Prague on April 8, 2010.

That was it - 27 words (in Russian). But that, of course, was before the Duma had a chance to listen to the discussion in the U.S. Senate or to read the Senate resolution of ratification. Even though the Senate did not change the text of the treaty, the ratification resolution includes some understanding and conditions that Russia is concerned could affect the meaning of some of the treaty provisions.

To counter that, Russia drafted its own list of understandings, which were included into the treaty during the so-called second reading of the ratification law. These were included into the text of the law as amendments (which the second reading allows), although in effect it is a completely new treaty now. With the initial 27 words, which remained unchanged, is is a 1500-word documents that includes six articles and a number of sections and subsections.

I translated the Russian text, taken from the table that summarizes the amendments on the official Duma page of the law, into English. I used Google Translate, but edited the text somewhat to make sure that the intent of the Russian document is intact. I posted the full text of the draft law as a document, but some articles are worth reproducing here.

First, Article 2 of the law describes Duma's understandings of what are the conditions under which New START implementation will take place. Most of them deal with maintaining the Russian strategic forces, but some aim directly at the U.S. resolution:

Implementation of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is carried out under the following conditions:


extending provisions of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and its counting rules to all strategic offensive weapons, as well as to the new types of strategic offensive weapons;

the question of extending the provisions of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to a new kind of strategic offensive weapons must be resolved within the framework of the Bilateral Consultative Commission, established in accordance with Article XII of the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, before this new kind of offensive weapons is deployed;

The issue, of course, is that the Senate stated that if a non-nuclear strategic-range system does not fall under the New START definition, then it is not limited by the treaty (like the "gliders" mentioned in the context of the Global Prompt Strike or maybe space-based conventionally-armed systems). Senate said that the only way to limit systems like these would be to include them into the text of the treaty, which would require Senate's advice and consent. This procedure, of course, would not prohibit deployment of these systems unless they are negotiated away. Russia wants a different procedure - each system of this kind would have to get an approval of the Bilateral Consultative Commission before it is deployed.

There is certainly plenty of room for disagreement here, but it is wrong to say that Russia declared it would leave the treaty "if Washington prepares strategic conventional armaments without permission from a Bilateral Consultative Commission," as the NTI's Global Security Newswire reported it.

Withdrawal conditions are specified in the Article 4 of the law. Here is the relevant part of the article in its entirety:

2. The Russian Federation would exercise the right to withdraw from the treaty specified in Article XIV of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty when exceptional circumstances arise that jeopardize its supreme interests. Such circumstances may include:

material breach of United States obligations under the new treaty on strategic offensive arms, which could threaten national security of the Russian Federation;

deployment by the United States, another state or group of States, of missile defense system that could substantially reduce the effectiveness of strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation;

buildup by the United States, another state or group of States, of strategic offensive arms or their decisions in the area of military development, as well as other circumstances which may endanger the national security of the Russian Federation;

deployment of the United States, other States or groups of States, of weapons that would prevent functioning of the Russian early-warning system.

This basically boils down to the already made statement on missile defense and hints at some possible space-weapons issues (e.g. if someone would use space-based systems to attack early-warning satellites). That's about it. Of course, the language of the third paragraph is quite enigmatic and could mean very much anything (it is as opaque in Russian as it is in English), but it seems to be there in case of things like a rapid Chinese building.

The differences that the ratification process uncovered are fairly substantial, so the life of New START will not be easy. However, nothing strikes me as irreconcilable and if the United States and Russia would keep the dialogue open, they will find a way to make sure that these differences do not undermine the disarmament process.