Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, meeting with newly elected party leaders in the lower house of parliament, expressed hope today for quick action in the expiring session of the State Duma on the long-delayed START II nuclear arms control treaty.
But the leader of the Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, and the outgoing Duma speaker, Gennady Seleznev, rejected Putin's appeal, leaving the pact with the United States stuck where it has been for nearly seven years--unratified. They said the outgoing parliament did not have time to consider it.
The new parliament will convene in January, and its members may be more favorably inclined toward the treaty. "The nation is pinning great hopes on the new Duma, the more so since there are many problems that need to be solved," Putin told the leaders of the top six parties after Sunday's election.
Putin's appeal on START II came on the same day that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott arrived here for talks on arms control and the altered political landscape in the wake of Sunday's vote, in which centrist parties dramatically improved their position.
Putin suggested that the outgoing Duma remain in session for an extra month, which he said "means there is a chance to ratify START II." The treaty, signed in 1993, is backed by the Russian military and the Kremlin but has been stalled in parliament.
But Zyuganov said in a radio interview that "the outgoing Duma cannot in its final days examine this problem." The United States "will quit the . . . treaty tomorrow in the blink of an eye. We must answer the question of our own security; then they will be listening to us in the United States."
As the final returns from Sunday's election were being counted, party leaders began jockeying for position. Sergei Shoigu, a cabinet minister who headed the new Unity party ticket, which placed second in voting for party slates, is expected to quit the cabinet and head the party's faction in the Duma, associates said. Many of the 76 Duma seats won by the pro-Kremlin party, which owes its success to its endorsement by the popular Putin, will be filled by individuals selected from regional lists.
The parties also have begun wrangling over who will serve as Duma speaker. Sources said the leading candidate among the centrist parties is former prime minister Sergei Stepashin, who is backed by Unity, the Yabloko bloc and the Union of Right Forces, a pro-market party headed by another former prime minister, Sergei Kiriyenko.
However, Zyuganov, whose Communist Party lost strength in the election but remains the largest single faction in the chamber, said the prerogative of naming a speaker belongs to his party and suggested Unity could name the deputy speaker.
Zyuganov lambasted Unity, which won the second-largest number of seats, without spelling out a political platform. "This party, remarkably, has offered no ideology or a program for the country," he said.
Earlier today, Zyuganov marked the 120th anniversary of Joseph Stalin's birth, laying a wreath at his grave at the Kremlin wall. "Stalin is one of the greatest statesmen, not only of the 20th century but of all Russian history," Zyuganov said.