Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 86

The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty of 1990 has been in trouble for many years, but last week it became apparent that its long illness maybe terminal. During talks on Monday, April 23, in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov told U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that CFE was “ineffective” (RIA-Novosti, April 23). While delivering his annual address to a joint session of parliament on Thursday April 26, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced “a moratorium on Russia’s implementation of the CFE treaty until all NATO countries ratify it and start to strictly adhere to it, as Russia does today unilaterally” (www.kremlin.ru, April 26).

In his address, Putin also accused the West of financially helping internal dissent and “interfering in our internal affairs” under the guise of supporting democracy. Putin accused the West of “building up armed forces in direct proximity of Russia’s borders.” Putin proposed discussing the CFE treaty issue at the Russia-NATO Council, and “if progress is not reached in negotiations,” Russia will unilaterally abrogate the treaty. The Kremlin later announced that NATO has a year to agree to Moscow’s demands, or CFE will go (RIA-Novosti, April 27).

Negotiations began in Vienna in 1973 to cut down the vast armies of East and West that faced each other in Central Europe during the Cold War. For 16 years the talks were fruitless, as Moscow opposed Western assessments of its military might. The USSR had secretly assembled superior numbers of armor in preparation to push an attack to the English Channel — to occupy all of Europe.

In 1989 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze agreed with Western estimates and the CFE was signed in 1990 with transparent verification procedures. A mass withdrawal of Soviet forces and weapons from Europe began. The Warsaw Pact and the USSR subsequently collapsed, and by 1994 all Russian troops and weapons were out of Central Europe.

The CFE Treaty imposed limits on the maximum number of tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, combat helicopters, and warplanes that could be deployed in Europe. It also divided Europe into zones with specific limits of weapons.

In 1990-91 Soviet generals moved some 70,000 heavy weapons out of the CFE area into Siberia and Central Asia, where by now this equipment has rusted away or been destroyed. In accordance with CFE provisions, some 58,000 pieces of conventional armaments and equipment have been destroyed under international supervision.

The Russian military has spent time and money to accumulate a substantial conventional superiority over NATO and CFE had sent it all to the scrap yard. Consequently, the Russian military passionately hates Gorbachev, Shevardnadze, and CFE.

In 1992 in Tashkent, the Soviet CFE quota was divided among the newly independent successor states. Russia’s CFE ceilings (European Russia only) were set at: 6,400 tanks, 11,480 combat armored vehicles, 6,415 artillery pieces, 3,450 combat aircraft, and 890 armed helicopters. The quota is larger than Russia needs — or even has. In 2004 the Russian army had 3,922 tanks, 6,008 armored vehicles, and 4,343 guns west of the Urals (Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie, August 20, 2004).

The zone or “flank” limitations annoy Moscow much more than the overall CFE quota for Russia. In 1992 Russia got the right to place a total of 700 tanks, 580 armored combat vehicles (ACVs), and 1,280 heavy guns in the North Caucasus military district and in the Leningrad military district. This represented 14% percent of the tanks, 5.5% of the ACVs, and % of heavy guns allocated to Russia overall under CFE. When the fighting in Chechnya began in 1994 Russia substantially and permanently violated its CFE “flank” quota.

In 1999 State Department spokesman James Rubin said, “They’ve been exceeding the flank limit for a long time. This is not a matter of a temporary deployment that gives them some provision under the treaty. We’re talking about many, many hundreds of pieces of equipment over the limits in the armor combat-vehicle category” (AP, October 8, 1999).

But overall Washington did not want to press Russia on violations. Instead, the CFE was revised to legalize Russia’s arms concentration in the Caucasus. At the 1999 summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Turkey, a revised CFE was signed that somewhat reduced overall quotas of all signatory states, and Moscow won significant increases for Russia’s “flank limitations.” In return, President Boris Yeltsin promised to remove all Russian troops from Georgia and Moldova by 2004.

Today Russia is still in the process of withdrawing troops from Georgia, but has adamantly refused to leave the Transnistria region of Moldova. NATO states, in turn, have refused to ratify the revised CFE. Last week Putin rejected the linkage of the CFE with troop withdrawal and threatened to abrogate the treaty if the West does not ratify it within one year. Last Friday, April 27, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a meeting with NATO ministers in Oslo, Norway, “No one in NATO is complying with CFE and we do not want too” (RIA-Novosti, April 27). The fact that Russia was much more in violation of CFE than the West does not seem to trouble Putin or Lavrov.

The termination of CFE by Russia will not lead to gross violations of the present limits on heavy weapons, since Russia and NATO member states have actual holdings that are much less than the quotas. The notification, control, and inspection regime of CFE will go with the treaty and this will create less transparency and more mutual suspicion in Europe — much like the atmosphere inside Putin’s Kremlin.