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Posted at 11:09 AM ET, 12/15/2010

Putin's push for the START treaty

By Jackson Diehl

A piece of paper tacked on a courtroom door in Moscow Wednesday morning offered Vladimir Putin's contribution to the Obama administration in its push to pass the New START treaty through the U.S. Senate this week.

The notice contained the surprising announcement that the verdict in the latest trial of Russia's best-known political prisoner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had been put off from today until Dec. 27. Judge Viktor Danilkin, who announced the decision in a fax to the Khamovnichesky Court, offered no explanation for his decision. But Khodorkovsky's defense team was quick to see a connection between the postponement and the White House's hopes that the Senate will take up the U.S.-Russian arms control treaty before it recesses for the year. After all, judges in Russia are not independent; Danilkin's sudden decree was almost certainly issued on orders from the Kremlin.

The START treaty is much prized by Obama, who has made it a priority over legislation repealing the military's "don't ask don't tell" policy for gays, the DREAM act for immigrants, and many other backed-up bills. But most experts believe that as a substantive matter, the treaty offers considerably more benefit to Russia than to the United States. It would modestly reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 in each country, while also limiting launching systems to 800 on each side. Russia is already headed below those levels, treaty or no; by obliging the United States to make parallel cuts, Moscow maintains the fiction that it remains a strategic equal of Washington.

Republicans in the Senate have already raised a series of objections to the treaty, and the White House has been fighting to line up the nine GOP votes needed for passage. Among other things, Republicans object to language in the pact's preamble linking offensive and defensive weapons, which they say might check the development of U.S. missile defense systems that Russia has long opposed.

The administration has credibly refuted that objection and others, while pointing out that ratification of the treaty is needed in order to restore inspections of Russia's arsenal, which ended when a previous treaty expired a year ago.

The Khodorkovsky case, however, threatened to tip the balance against the treaty.

The former oil magnate has already been imprisoned for seven years on the trumped-up tax charges that Putin used to seize his Yukos company, which once was Russia's largest private enterprise. With his term due to expire next year, the government brought new charges against Khodorkovsky and his co-defendant Platon Lebedev. The new case is ludicrous in its implausibility -- the two men are accused of stealing the entire oil production of their company over a period of years -- and its presentation in court by Putin's bumbling prosecutors has been so inept that even the judge has had trouble containing his impatience.

The expected reading of the verdict this week has attracted a lot of international attention. On Tuesday a long list of international leaders released an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev in which they said that "the rule of law and human values" had been "openly abused and compromised" by the case. Perhaps more significantly, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a potential swing vote on the START treaty, last week raised the impending verdict against Khodorkovsky in a speech in Washington, saying that "if ever there were a case of 'legal nihilism' - of an affront to the very values of equal justice that we hold dear - the case of Khodorkovsky is it."

The paper on the door of the Moscow court prevented the Obama administration from having to seek the vote of McCain and other senators on START even as the judge read out a verdict that is expected to extend Khodorkovsky's prison term for up to 14 more years. That could change the outcome in the Senate; sadly, it is not likely to change the result of the most momentous human rights trial of Russia's post-Soviet history.

By Jackson Diehl  | December 15, 2010; 11:09 AM ET
Categories:  Diehl  | Tags:  Jackson Diehl  
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All our allies are for this treaty. The Republican secretaries of state and defense are for this treaty. The Pentagon is for this treaty.

The neocon warmongers are against this treaty and want to restart the Cold War.

Posted by: David77 | December 15, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Mikhail Khodorkovsky? Hey my dear sir-Diehl? who the heck is this one? What does he have to do with the START treaty? Is he a concern for The average American? Well no, this seems to be one of those guys-with a Russian name, trying to do the 'leverage' thing in Russia and they, Putin, are not buying. This is about an international zionist movement that has nothing to do with the average American. I ask (mr.) Diehl, when are you going to do a piece about the average American guy? or, the receding American middle class?. I wish we had a Putin in our congress to keep a check on the dual ones that only pull for themselves.

Posted by: likovid | December 15, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

We can't dictate to Russia how it's judicial system will function, regardless of how unfair it may be.

Anyone who would link the passage of the new START treaty addressing strategic national interests to this court verdict is not fit to sit in the Senate.

And, as a side issue - remember that these oil oligarchs' wealth came essentially from the fraudulent privatization of national resources.

Posted by: j3hess | December 15, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

You are such an idio8. Seriously, you are going to trade the START treaty for Khodorovsky? Russia is not USSR and has plenty of economic and military power, courtesy of failed American wars and du*8nuts like yourself.

You're such a silly old goose.

Posted by: Silly_Willy_Bulldog | December 15, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Khodorovsky is one of eight Jewsish ologarchs...
who grabbed Russia's NATURAL RESOURCES as the Soviet Union disintegrated.

More important, he is the one the Jews, zionists all over the world, had decided would takee over Russia after a 'revolution' they're constantly trying to start. (that's what the Georgia gig was about.)

So you think israel wants only Palestine? All of it? Try Syria, Iran, iraq
Lebanon (tried recently, didn't they) then on to Turkey, etc.
Arms and taxpayer money courtesy of
stupid Americans...via WALL STREET... the
Jewish piggy bank in America.
Its called "international banking".

Posted by: whistling | December 15, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

In what twisted, zionist plotter's mind was this silly conflation conceived?

Diehl is smirking to hisself and his WAPO bosses about how 'diabolically clever' he is. And they probably buy it.

Posted by: whistling | December 15, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Russian district judges like Judge Viktor Danilkin are appointed to age 70, and can only be removed for stated causes (bribery, etc.) by their Judicial Qualifying Collegium, which is elected by their judicial conference and consists 2/3 of judges. Applicants for judgeships are vetted and recommended by the same Judicial Qualifying Collegium, nominated by the Chief Judge of the Supreme Court, and appointed by the President. If either the Chief Judge or the President rejects two recommendations, the application process starts over. While judges were low paid in the 1990's because of galloping inflation, and thus open to bribery, their salaries are now comparable to other public officials. Whatever the merits of the Khodorkovsky case and its relationship to the New START treaty, Mr. Diehl's statement "After all, judges in Russia are not independent;" is in error. The Russian judiciary is set up to be as independent as possible.

Posted by: MSJ2 | December 16, 2010 9:14 AM | Report abuse

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