Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 145

At the OSCE’s year-end meeting in Sofia on December 6-7, Russia ruled out any regional statement on Georgia or Moldova, and vetoed the political declaration’s text that read: “Some of the commitments made at the 1999 Istanbul Summit regarding Georgia and Moldova have not yet been fulfilled. Their fulfillment without further delay would create the conditions for . . . ratification of the adapted Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe.”

That appeasement-minded text had stopped short of mentioning Russia, or Russian troops and bases; set no timeframe for compliance, and failed even to recall just what those commitments were. Moreover, it seemingly overestimates Russia’s actual (as distinct from rhetorical) interest in Western ratification of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty. During the drafting process, Georgia and Moldova had insisted that mention be made of “withdrawal of Russian forces,” “concern about the lack of progress in this regard,” and OSCE desire to “achieve this goal in the earliest possible timeframe.” Influential Western delegations and the OSCE Chairmanship, however, turned down even this mild language (itself a retreat from the 1999 Istanbul documents) for fear of irritating Russia.

The OSCE’s timidity emboldened Russia to add, in its closing statement: “Regarding the position taken by certain states on linking the so-called Istanbul commitments to ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty, the Russian Federation declares that it does not recognize this [linkage] as legitimate.” It went on to insist that troop-withdrawal issues are bilateral ones, between Russia and Georgia and between Russia and Moldova, respectively, not brooking international intercession. And it portrayed the Istanbul Commitments as not binding: Russia may choose to fulfill them at some future time, provided Georgia and Moldova fulfill their “conditions.”

The Istanbul Commitments had not attached any conditions to Russia’s troop-withdrawal obligations and did set specific deadlines. The OSCE’s 2002 Porto and 2003 Maastricht year-end conferences rephrased the withdrawal obligations into intentions, introduced unspecified “necessary conditions” (which Moscow can interpret at will), and lifted the deadlines. The organization thus cooperated in the evisceration of its own decisions.

In Sofia, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, noting that Russia’s commitments to withdraw its forces from Moldova and Georgia remain unfulfilled, reaffirmed the linkage between fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments and ratification of the CFE Treaty. Recalling, “A core principle of that treaty is host country agreement with the stationing of forces,” Powell confirmed the position that “The U.S. will ratify the CFE Treaty only after all the Istanbul commitments on Georgia and Moldova have been met.” NATO made a collective declaration to the conference along these same lines.

For its part, the European Union’s joint statement “exhorted” (an unusual term) Russia to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia, but failed to mention a link to CFE Treaty ratification. And, with regard to Georgia, the EU went on to repeat the now-discredited formula, according to which Russia and Georgia should agree among themselves “on the duration and modalities of the functioning of the Russian military bases.” The German and French ministers of foreign affairs, Joschka Fischer and Michel Barnier, in their national statements, failed to mention Russian troops, Moldova, and Georgia, but did underscore the goal of ratifying the adapted CFE Treaty.

The OSCE’s Joint Consultative Group (JCG) is responsible for discussing issues related to implementation and ratification of the CFE Treaty and fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments. The JCG’s Chair, which rotates every two weeks among the Group’s 30-plus members, is expected to send a letter to the OSCE’s Chairmanship at each year-end meeting, reporting on JCG activities for that year. Last year at Maastricht, Russia seemed set to veto the sending of that letter, but did not need to resort to that step because Armenia happened to chair the JCG that fortnight and it refrained from initiating the letter.

This year, Luxemburg happened to chair the JCG just before and during the year-end meeting. Without mentioning Moldova and Georgia, “Russian troops,” “bases,” “withdrawal,” or lack of progress, the JCG Chair’s one-page letter simply restated that fulfillment of the Istanbul Commitments is a prerequisite for ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty. It also mentioned concerns about unaccounted-for and uncontrolled CFE Treaty-limited equipment, again without naming any names. Russia vetoed the draft letter.

(Documents of the OSCE’s 2004 year-end ministerial conference, Vienna and Sofia, December 1-7, 2004).