Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 113

The OSCE’s Conference to Review the Operation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) ended on June 2 in Vienna with a tactical success for the West. The NATO and GUAM countries (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) thwarted Russia’s goal to trigger the ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty at the expense of several countries in Europe’s East. However, the consensus among NATO countries’ delegations was less than iron-clad.

Russia wants the treaty brought into force in hopes of gaining a voice regarding the U.S. or NATO force posture between the Baltic and Black Seas. At the same time, Moscow refuses to fulfill some of its 1999 Istanbul Commitments, which form an integral part of the adapted treaty. The outstanding issues include the unlawful stationing of Russian troops in Moldova; Russia’s retention of the Gudauta base in Georgia; and arsenals of Russian-delivered, treaty-banned weaponry (“unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment” or TLE) in Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, as well as Karabakh and nearby districts in Azerbaijan.

The United States, NATO, and the GUAM group continue to insist that the adapted CFE treaty’s ratification is conditional on Russia’ fulfillment of its Istanbul Commitments within the treaty package. The linkage holds out an incentive to Russia to carry out those commitments regarding Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. That incentive would disappear if Western countries were to abandon the linkage and proceed to ratify the treaty. For its part, Moscow focuses on breaking that linkage and it sought to use this Review Conference toward that goal.

Russia drafted its version of a Conference Decision stating, “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.” Accordingly, 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.” This latter clause alludes to the three Baltic states, which are not parties to the original 1990 CFE Treaty (they were still occupied by Moscow at that time). Russia seeks to bring them under the purview of the 1999-adapted CFE treaty and start negotiations about limiting allied forces that might hypothetically be deployed to the Baltic states’ territories, for example in crisis contingencies.

During the deliberations, Russia’s delegation insisted on retaining the troops in Moldova on the excuse that they serve as “peacekeepers” and guard the vast ammunition stockpiles there. It claimed, moreover, that the troops are stationed there under bilateral arrangements with Moldova. The Russian delegation invoked again the “peacekeeping” excuse for retaining the Gudauta base, which is located in Abkhaz-controlled territory (more accurately, in territory handed by the Russian military to its Abkhaz proxies). The Russian side declined altogether to discuss the issue of unaccounted-for treaty-limited equipment in the hands of secessionist forces.

Russia’s chief delegate to the conference, Anatoly Antonov, claimed that all those outstanding issues were beyond the scope of the adapted CFE treaty and that Moscow had completely fulfilled all of its obligations under that treaty. Antonov, head of the arms control directorate of Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned obliquely that Russia might withdraw from the original 1990 CFE Treaty, if the adapted treaty is not brought into force. In a talking point calculated to unsettle the audience and break with arms-control orthodoxy, Russian representatives declared that the CFE Treaty can no longer be deemed a “cornerstone of European security” and has even turned into the opposite of that. In a thinly veiled appeal to certain West European governments, the Russian delegation appealed to “those interested in building [security in] a united Europe to speak out decisively” together with Russia for the adapted treaty’s ratification on those terms.

The caucus of NATO member countries at the conference experienced some strain when a few delegations attempted to dilute the language of NATO’s collective draft final document. That attempt focused on loosening the linkage between ratification of the treaty by the state parties and fulfillment of the force-withdrawal commitments by Russia. The German delegation even took it upon itself to propose a compromise version to the Russian side. This was not entirely unexpected, given the same delegation’s attempt to loosen that linkage at the OSCE’s 2005 year-end ministerial conference in Ljubljana (see EDM, December 8, 2005). The Romanian delegation, and others in its wake, argued strongly in the NATO caucus for maintaining the integrity of that linkage — a position encouraged by the United States. Ultimately the Russian side itself acted inflexibly in turning down the German compromise formula.

The GUAM countries supported each other and associated themselves with NATO’s collective position throughout the conference. In the event, their joint stance emerged strengthened from this conference.

(Documents of the CFE Treaty Review Conference, Interfax, May 27-June 5; see EDM, May 17, 22)