Russia to cut nuclear arsenal by one-third


President Yeltsin announced yesterday that Russia would unilaterally reduce the number of its nuclear warheads by another third. "I say to you here, for the first time, unilaterally, that we are going to reduce our quantity of nuclear warheads by one-third," Mr Yeltsin told a press conference in the Swedish capital.

Russia and the US have already agreed to reduce their nuclear arsenals by one-third in the framework of the START II treaty on reduction of Russian and US strategic nuclear arsenals.

However Mr Yeltsin's spokesman, Mr Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said later the second one-third reduction was not really unilateral, but a process parallel with that of the US within the framework of new START III negotiations.

These US-Russian negotiations have begun at expert level but have stalled because the START II treaty, signed by both states, has still not been ratified by the Russian parliament.

START II calls for a reduction to 3,500 by the year 2003 in the number of strategic nuclear warheads in both states' arsenals.

Meanwhile, Mr Yeltsin has extended by five years a ban on Russian exports of anti-personnel mines, as delegates from some 120 nations gathered in Canada to sign a global treaty banning the deadly devices.

A presidential decree signed yesterday before Mr Yeltsin left for Sweden banned the export of mines not fitted with self-destruction mechanisms and impossible to locate with mine detectors.

The Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr Lloyd Axworthy, said about 120 countries would sign the convention to ban the production, sale or use of anti-personnel landmines this week. Russia will not be included. A further 30 countries - including the US - would take part in the three-day conference with humanitarian organisations, he said.

During a visit to Russia in October by the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr Jean Chretien - whose country has led calls for the mine ban - Mr Yeltsin signalled he might travel to Ottawa for the formal signing of the global antimine treaty.

However, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr Valery Nesterush kin, said yesterday Russia was unlikely to sign the convention, although the First Deputy Foreign Minister, Mr Igor Ivanov, would attend the ceremonies today.

Neighbouring Finland, which also will not be represented in Ottawa, yesterday said it may eventually sign the landmine ban if it finds an alternative means of defence.

Also yesterday, Switzerland destroyed its last anti-personnel mine in anticipation of signing the Ottawa treaty. It has destroyed several hundred tonnes of the weapon in the past two years.