Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 96

Amid a deep secrecy that belies its democratic professions, the OSCE is preparing to hold a Conference to Review the Operation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) in Vienna at the end of this month. Some West European chancelleries are seeking ways to give in to Moscow’s main goal at this conference: ratification of the 1999 treaty at the expense of a few small countries in Europe’s East. Thus far, Moscow has only managed to persuade Belarus, Ukraine (during Leonid Kuchma’s presidency), and Kazakhstan to ratify that treaty.

Originally signed in 1990, the CFE Treaty underwent adaptation at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit, in one package with the Final Act that includes what came to be known as Russia’s “Istanbul Commitments”; namely, to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova. While the original 1990 treaty remains in force, the 1999-adapted treaty never entered into force because Russia has not fulfilled those commitments. Moreover, Armenian forces deploy Russian-supplied heavy weaponry exceeding CFE treaty limits in areas seized from Azerbaijan, out of bounds to international inspection.

Meanwhile, Russia seeks to extend the CFE Treaty’s area of applicability so as to include the three Baltic states, which were not parties to the 1990 treaty (they were still occupied by Moscow at that time). Since the Baltic states joined NATO, Russia seeks to bring them under the purview of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty and start negotiations with them about limiting allied forces that might hypothetically be deployed to the Baltic states’ territories, for example in crisis contingencies. Legally, however, the Baltic states cannot join an unratified treaty.

Thus, Russia is now pressing for the treaty’s speedy ratification by all state-parties, so as to make possible the Baltic states’ accession to the ratified treaty, while still keeping Russian troops on Georgia’s and Moldova’s territories in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria. Moscow calculates that Western consent to ratification of the 1999 treaty in such circumstances would legitimize, prolong, and even legalize the stationing of Russian troops in Georgia and Moldova as “peacekeepers.”

To pave the way for such an outcome, Moscow has agreed with Georgia to close Russian bases and military installations situated deep inside the country by 2008 (nine years after its pledge to do so); but it insists on maintaining its “peacekeeping” forces in Abkhazia and South Ossetia while heavily arming its proxy forces there. Russia had liquidated most of its treaty-limited weaponry in Transnistria already in 2001; but retains a part of it to this day, has transferred another part as well as personnel to Transnistria-flagged forces, and openly repudiates the obligation to withdraw Russia’s own troops, styled as “peacekeepers.”

The United States as well as NATO collectively take the position that ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty is inseparably linked to fulfillment of Russia’s commitments to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova; and that the Baltic states would accede to the treaty, once it enters into force.

Russia has drafted its version of a decision for the CFE Treaty Review conference and wants negotiations on its basis in the OSCE’s Joint Consultative Group (JCG), the Vienna forum of the 30 state-parties to the treaty. Moscow’s draft claims, “Most commitments and arrangements mentioned in the [1999] Final Act are either already fulfilled or are in the process of fulfillment, [while] the implementation of the remaining ones has no direct relevance to the CFE Treaty and depends on the progress of conflict settlement on the territories of some State Parties.” It proposes that all state parties should deem the 1999 treaty as valid from October 2006, start the national ratification procedures, bring the treaty into force in 2007, and “discuss the possibility of accession of new participants.”

The translation: Although Russia has far from completely honored its force-withdrawal commitments, the state-parties (mostly NATO and European Union member countries) should agree that is has. Thus, they should: proceed with the Moscow-desired ratification of the treaty; de-link ratification from the fulfillment of Russia’s withdrawal commitments, using the conflicts for an excuse; lean on Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan to accept the situation and ratify the treaty; and start the procedure of the Baltic states’ accession to the force-limiting treaty.

Some German, French, Belgian, and other diplomats are now exploring a solution that could allow Russia to claim that it has fulfilled its troop-withdrawal commitments. Such a solution would:

1) exempt Russia’s “peacekeeping” troops from the obligation to withdraw, recognizing their hitherto unrecognized role as “peacekeepers” and allowing them to stay on;

2) silently tolerate the arsenals of CFE treaty-limited weaponry that Russia has transferred to proxy forces in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, as well as the deployments inside Azerbaijan; and

3) elicit consent from Tbilisi, Chisinau, and Baku with such a solution.

It would seem that the secrecy surrounding the JCG debates in Vienna and the ironing out of common positions at the EU in Brussels is a propitious atmosphere for a compromise with Moscow at the expense of small countries. Lack of transparency in Vienna also tends to facilitate undercutting or diluting the U.S. and collective NATO position on these issues through initiatives from a few important European capitals.

(JCG documents, May 2006)