Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 103

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov

Russian officials are intensifying their warnings about scuttling the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), unless the West brings the adapted but unratified treaty into force while accepting the continued presence of Russian troops in Georgia and Moldova. Apart from that goal, Moscow aims to extend the treaty’s applicability to the three Baltic states, so as to limit possible deployments of Western forces there in emergencies. The Baltic states are not signatory to the unratified treaty, but would sign it upon its coming into force.

Given multiple Russian violations of both the 1990 original and the 1999-adapted treaty, however, the latest threats to abandon the treaty unless it is ratified do not sound credible, even if reiterated at higher decibels. Thus far, only Russia and three other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan) have ratified the adapted treaty.

Following Russian President Vladimir Putin’s April 26 warning to that effect, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov took the warning to the OSCE — the CFE Treaty’s custodian organization — in Vienna on May 23, concurrently with Putin’s bilateral visit to Austria, also on May 23, and backed up by louder warnings from First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov in Moscow that same day.

Addressing a special joint session of the OSCE’s Permanent Council and its talk-shop Forum for Security Cooperation (FSC), Lavrov reiterated Putin’s warnings and went on to propose the holding of a special international conference of state-parties to the CFE Treaty. Putin and Lavrov had coordinated this initiative with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Moscow the preceding week. Rice mentioned the possible conference approvingly though cryptically in her remarks to Moscow media during the visit. It is not yet clear how the Russians hope to shape the agenda and composition of such a conference in order to obtain satisfaction from it.

For his part, Ivanov warned on May 23 that Russia would suspend its fulfillment of the treaty’s mutual obligations regarding onsite inspections of forces by other state-parties and pre-notification of military movements. Russia would comply with its side of such obligations only after the treaty is ratified and brought into force, Ivanov declared for NATO and EU countries to hear.

For a novel argument, Moscow is sharply questioning the establishment of U.S. military installations in Romania and Bulgaria. Mostly located near the Black Sea coast, the installations are designed for logistical support to U.S. and allied forces en route to Asia for ongoing or contingency operations. Putin rhetorically criticized the creation of those bases in his April 26 Moscow speech and again in Vienna on May 23, as did Lavrov at the OSCE that day and Ivanov in Moscow.

The Russians are not seriously attempting to argue that deployment of those U.S. forces in Romania and Bulgaria violate any CFE quotas or ceilings. Russian objections seem designed for political effect on two counts: First, to suggest one element of a deal whereby Moscow would desist from raising that issue if the West accepts a continuing Russian military presence in Moldova and Georgia. And second, to demonstrate that Russia wants to be consulted on basic issues of hard security affecting new member countries of NATO (Romania and Bulgaria in this case).

In the OSCE’s special meeting, Western countries properly ignored Moscow’s polemics regarding Romania and Bulgaria while responding firmly on the CFE treaty-related issues. Statements by U.S. Ambassador Julie Finley, the European Union collectively, and NATO member countries collectively as state-parties to the CFE Treaty addressed Putin’s and Lavrov’s warnings. The Western statements used similar wording reminding Russia that the remaining Istanbul commitments relating to Georgia and Moldova must be fulfilled as a precondition to ratification of the CFE treaty. At the same time, the Western statements offered to overcome the differences through negotiation and cooperation with Russia in the OSCE, the NATO-Russia Council, or the newly envisaged special international conference.

Technically, Moscow insists that ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty is not conditional on the withdrawal of Russian troops from bases in Georgia and Moldova. In fact, the linkage between ratification and troop withdrawal is explicit in the agreements on the treaty’s adaptation, signed at the OSCE’s 1999 Istanbul summit (the Istanbul Commitments). Moscow does not recognize those commitments as part of the CFE treaty, but is in fact withdrawing from its Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases and is scheduled to close them during 2007 and 2008, respectively, under bilateral agreements with Georgia. However, Russia retains the Gudauta base (in the Abkhaz-controlled territory of Georgia), which was to have been closed in 2001 in accordance with the 1999 treaty-adaptation agreement. The latter does not apply to the “peacekeeping” troops as such, however.

Moscow apparently hopes that NATO and EU countries would tolerate the arsenals of heavy weaponry in the possession of unlawful forces in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Karabakh. Designated as “unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment,” it involves categories of weapons subjected to CFE treaty quotas or bans, but hidden from the state-parties to the treaty (other than Russia, which delivered those weapons) in those enclaves. Ratification of the adapted treaty would be a farcical exercise without resolving this problem.

(Interfax, Itar-Tass, May 23; OSCE Permanent Council session documents, May 23)