Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 24

Russia Balks on the CFE, Threatening Regional Security

by Stanislav Lunev

The announcement by Defense Minister Pavel Grachev that Russiacould not comply with the terms of the Conventional Armed Forcesin Europe (CFE) by the deadline came as no surprise. It has beenobvious for some months that Russia was the only one of the formerSoviet republics not trying to comply with the Treaty.

The CFE treaty was signed in Paris on November 19, 1990,by 30 Western and former Soviet bloc countries, and will takeeffect later this month. It calls for major reductions in thenumber of tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), artillerypieces and combat aircraft in the huge region running from theAtlantic Ocean to the Ural mountains.

Since the treaty was approved, after long and very complicatednegotiations, it has been considered a cornerstone of Europeansecurity. (1)

But implementation of the treaty has proven to be even more complicatedthan its negotiation. Shortly after the treaty was signed, itwas learned that the USSR had failed to declare a total of about5,500 tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces in the European zone,which were assigned to Soviet naval infantry, coastal defense,the Strategic Missile Forces, and the Civil Defense Organization.(2) There was particular concern over the 3,738 tanks, APCs, andartillery pieces assigned to naval infantry and coastal defense. As a result, several months after the treaty was signed, itsratification and implementation by the signatories were put onhold until the dispute over these weapons could be resolved.

The Soviet General Staff was strongly opposed to the inclusionof these weapons in the CFE limits. (3) The Chief of the SovietGeneral Staff, General Moiseyev, arrived in Washington, DC inMay, 1991, with a difficult mission. He had a direct order fromPresident Gorbachev "not to come home without this problembeing resolved." And Marshal Yazov, the Minister of Defense,had told Moiseyev that, in effect, he would agree to the disarmamentof the naval infantry and civil defense divisions "only overhis dead body."

General Moiseyev’s task appeared to be impossible until his Americancounterpart offered him some advice: why not transfer the disputeddivisions from the Soviet Armed Forces to the Soviet Ministryof Internal Affairs (MVD) system? If under MVD control, the unitswould not be "in service" as defined by the treaty because,according to Article III, Section 3, Paragraph R, they would be"held by organizations" designed and structured to performinternal security functions in peacetime. (4)

This strategy was adopted by Soviet military leaders and theirsuccessors in the Russian Federation. As a result, MVD troopscurrently have more than two dozen full-strength divisions, amountingto about 800,000 personnel, with thousands of tanks, APCs, artillerypieces, and combat helicopters, which are exempt from the treatylimitations.

General Moiseyev’s visit enabled Secretary of State James Bakerand Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Bessmertnykh to reach afinal agreement on June 1, 1991. Implementation was still notwithout difficulties, but the CFE had finally begun to work. Thesignatories began to destroy massive weapons systems, bringinga measure of comfort and security to all signatories.

According to the original text of Article V, Section 5 of thetreaty, there are separate limits for the so-called flank areasof Europe, which include Greece, Norway, and Turkey, Romania,Bulgaria, and the Leningrad, Northern Caucasus, and the formerOdessa and Transcaucasus Military Districts. In these areas, active units are limited to 4,700 tanks, 5,900 APCs, and 6,000artillery pieces.

Article V also stipulates that each group of states may exceedthese limits temporarily, provided that such excess armamentsnumber no more than 459 tanks, 723 APCs, and 420 artillery pieces.

The limit for Romania was set at 1,375 tanks, 2,100 APCs, and1,475 artillery pieces; for Bulgaria, at 1,475 tanks, 2,000 APCs,and 1,750 artillery pieces. The Soviet Union was limited to nomore than 1,850 tanks, 1,800 APCs and 2,775 artillery pieces inits northern and southern areas. (5)

After the disintegration of the USSR, the CIS members reapportionedthe Soviet quotas among themselves, and the new ceilings for Russiaand the other CIS states were incorporated into the CFE treaty.Ukraine occupied about two-thirds and Moldova, less than one-third,of the former Odessa Military District; Georgia, Armenia, andAzerbaijan, nearly one-half, one-quarter, and about one-thirdof the Transcaucasus Military District, respectively.

In the four years following the signing of the treaty, the formerUSSR has made significant cuts in its conventional arms west ofthe Urals, destroying, for example, more than 2,800 of the 10,333tanks it had there. But a major portion of the conventional weaponsdestruction by the USSR had taken place prior to its collapsein December 1991. Since then, Russia has markedly slowed the scrappingof that part of its vast arsenal which exceeds CFE limits (6)

In fact, Russia has been storing huge amounts of weapons whichwould have to have been destroyed to bring the country into compliancewith the CFE treaty. In some Russian military districts, thisstockpile is creating an unusual situation: the deputy commanderof Russia’s Far Eastern Military District said that his troopshave so many weapons that they don’t have to repair those whichbreak down. (7)

Russia is alone among the newly independent states in its failureto comply. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced back in Octoberthat the deadline would find Ukraine in compliance with CFE quotason APCs, tanks, artillery pieces, tactical aviation, and combathelicopters. (8) The only question was whether the Russian forcesremaining on Ukrainian territory–combat hardware of Russia’s126th coastal defense division and 810th marine brigade, bothpart of the Black Sea Fleet–would be removed before the deadline.These units remain in the Crimea because no final decision hasbeen reached on the disposition of the Black Sea Fleet and asa result, Ukraine is, technically speaking, in violation of thetreaty limitations.

Although Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko announcedin February 1995 that his country would not comply with the CFEtreaty limits, he reversed his position in August, promising toresume destruction of the weapons if the West covered the costs.According to NATO’s Supreme Commander for Central Europe, GeneralHelge Hansen, who visited Belarus at the end of October, thisformer Soviet republic is now eliminating these weapons, as mandatedby the treaty. (9)

The CFE Treaty limits allow Russia to keep no more than 700 tanks,580 armored personnel carriers, and 1,280 artillery systems inthe Leningrad and Northern Caucasus Military Districts (althoughthe city of Leningrad has been renamed St. Petersburg, the nameof the military district remains the same). (10) No one disputesthat this is a more than adequate force in peacetime. But afterRussian troops withdrew from the Baltic states, and followingits massive deployment of weapons in Chechnya (in violation ofthe treaty’s restrictions), Russia began to feel uncomfortablewith the treaty’s flank limits.

There is some dispute over the exact number of weapons whichRussia has deployed in the Northern Caucasus. Russian estimatesof the number of weapons deployed in Chechnya–a little over onethousand respectively of tanks, APCs, and artillery pieces (11)–cannotbe considered reliable. Pentagon officials estimate that the Russianshave 3,000 tanks, 5,500 APCs, and 3,000 artillery pieces deployedin their flank areas.(12)

If the Pentagon estimates are correct, it is very difficult tounderstand why, as reported in the Moscow press, the Russian GeneralStaff sought to increase the CFE flank limits to just 900 tanks,2,500 APCs, and 1,400 artillery pieces. (13)

Russian military officials have been arguing for months thatthe area of the Northern Caucasus has to be excluded from theCFE’s flank restrictions. In the Russian view, these flank limitshave already lost all meaning due to the dissolution of the WarsawPact, since the CFE treaty was premised on the confrontation ofthe two blocs in Europe. NATO countries–especially Norway andTurkey–have opposed the Russian position.

For nearly a year, Russian generals have been saying that itwould be better for Russia to withdraw from the CFE. The officialRussian position on this question was disclosed by the Ministryof Foreign Affairs at the end of December 1994, when it declaredthat the CFE’s restrictions discriminated against Russia. In thewords of Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigori Karasin, (14) "someprovisions of the treaty, first of all, the so-called flank limits,have become discriminatory in the years following the conclusionof the treaty." Russian officials also argued that the conflictin the former Yugoslavia is further justification for increasing,not decreasing, Russia’s armored forces on its flanks. (15)

The Russian Defense Ministry sent an official request to alltreaty signatories, asking for the review of certain treaty provisions,in effect, temporarily suspending the treaty. But for a long timethe US resisted a review of the treaty’s terms before the specialinternational conference in Vienna.

No progress was made in resolving this conflict of interest untilSeptember of 1995, when NATO decided to retreat on the issue offlank limitations.

Why did it do so? According to the New York Times, (16)American officials said that a NATO commission in Brussels decidedto negotiate on the issue because of fears that if it did not,tensions could mushroom and the CFE treaty could collapse. Russiahad already threatened to flout the treaty’s restrictions comethe November deadline. Moreover, the NATO compromise on the treatylimits comes as the West’s relations with Russia have soured.Moscow has strongly opposed plans to expand NATO to include someformer Soviet republics and condemned NATO’s bombing of BosnianSerb positions.

On October 28, US Defense Secretary William Perry said that hehad reached "a meeting of minds" with Russian defenseminister Pavel Grachev on revising the so-called flank restrictionsof the treaty. (17) The compromise permitted Russia to have moreconventional arms in the regions than the treaty requires, butfewer than it has now.

Interestingly, the announcement of the compromise followedclosely behind the announcement that Russia would send peacekeepingtroops to the rump Yugoslavia to serve under US, not NATO,command. It appears that in the discussions between Russian presidentBoris Yeltsin and US president Bill Clinton in New York on October23, 1995 the deal was made: Russia participates in the peacekeepingefforts in Bosnia, if the CFE flank limits are revised upwards.

Following the announcement, the Russian press reported that GroundForces Commander-in-Chief General Vladimir Semyonov was pleasedwith the compromise reached. Other statements, especially oneby a senior Foreign Ministry official, indicated that Russia mightgive up its demand to have the limits raised for the northernregion. (18) Indeed, in his statement on November 16, Grachevindicated that Russia could sacrifice part of its conventionalweapons force in the northern regions if it is allowed to keepthe stronger force in the south. (19)

What impact would the higher Russian flank limits have on securityin the region? If the total number of tanks, armored personnelcarriers, and artillery pieces will be in between previous treatyflank limits and what is now located in the Leningrad and NorthernCaucasus Military Districts, the strategic balance will fallapart. The Russian military will have powerful field armiespermanently on its northern and southern flanks, strong enoughfor a successful war against any opposition.

For example, the group of Russian forces in the Northern Caucasus,supported from Russian military bases in Georgia and Armenia,(which, it must be noted, are not taken into account in the CFE’sflank limits,) will have opportunities for military operationsinside the Transcaucasus region. This means that there is theconstant threat that Russian troops may try to establish controlover Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, (the latter being the onlynew independent state in the region free from Russian troops,but extremely rich in natural resources) threatening neighboringcountries and creating instability throughout southern Europe.

On Europe’s northern flank, Russia has enough military powerto affect the security of the whole area and to create a permanentdanger to the Baltic states and other countries in the region.

Moreover, bringing Yugoslavia into the argument over flank limitsraises the possibility that Russia could insist on a permanentmilitary presence in Moldova, to keep the former Soviet republicsunder its control, and influence the strategic situation thereand in neighboring countries.

In any event, this change in the strategic balance could createnothing but new problems for European security, especially ifthere is a new wave of general crisis in Russia.


1. Segodnya, #178, September 20, 1995

2. Report of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on theCFE Treaty, Exec. Rept. 102-22

3. Ibid

4. Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE)Senate Treaty Document 102-8

5. Ibid

6. Monitor, on September 18, 1995

7. Dalny vostok, May 18, 1995

8. Interfax-Ukraine, October 11, 1995

9. Monitor, No. 124, October 26, 1995

10. Segodnya, No.178

11. Segodnya, August 18, 1995

12. New York Times, September 16, 1995

13. Segodnya, No. 178

14. Itar-Tass, December 27, 1994

15. Itar-Tass and Interfax, September 15

16. September 16, 1995

17. Washington Post, October 29, 1995

18. Monitor, November 1, 1995

19. Reuters, November 16, 1995

Stanislav Lunev is a former Colonel in Soviet Military Intelligence[GRU].