Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 115

The “Extraordinary Conference of States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe” (CFE), under way in Vienna since June 11 at Russia’s initiative, is developing in a wholly different way than had been expected. Russia is proposing what amounts to an almost total rewrite of the 1999-adapted CFE Treaty, which has not been ratified and brought into force since then. The version currently in force is the original 1990 CFE Treaty.

Only Russia and three Commonwealth of Independent States member countries have ratified the 1999-adapted Treaty. The other signatory countries condition their ratification on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova (the 1999 Istanbul Commitments). Apparently, Russia deemed the treaty at least acceptable to itself as recently as 2004 when it initiated that ratification (hoping to generate pressure on the Baltic states to join a ratified treaty). Now, however, the Kremlin seeks to scuttle this same treaty, the ratification of which it was urging upon the West until mere months ago. Moscow’s move is central to a comprehensive challenge to the post-Soviet status quo on security in Europe.

Euphemistically dubbed “modernization” of the 1999 treaty, Russia’s goal is a comprehensive re-negotiation of that treaty package. However, Russia still wants the 1999 CFE treaty to be brought into force — largely in order to restrict defense options in the Baltic states — and only then proceed to re-negotiate the treaty with regard to other areas, in quest of Russian unilateral advantages.

The Russian delegation’s chief, Anatoly Antonov, listed Russia’s grievances and demands in his June 12 official introductory speech. The salient points include:

1) The 1999-adapted CFE Treaty to be ratified and brought into force quickly, or at least to be declared “temporarily valid” by July 1, 2008.

2) Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to sign the ratified or at least temporarily validated treaty, so as to fall under its restrictions. Curiously, Moscow claims that the three Baltic states should “return to the CFE Treaty which they quit in 1991,” implying that the three states somehow inherited the 1990 treaty as parts of the Soviet Union, which was still occupying them at that point;

3) New “group” limits to be negotiated on NATO armaments and military hardware, so as to “compensate” [Russia] for the accession of new member countries to NATO and the U.S. military installations in Romania and Bulgaria. Arms deployments and/or numerical ceilings are to be lowered in most of those countries.

4) A political decision to remove the “flank” limits on Russian force deployments in the North Caucasus and a part of Russia’s northwest. Russia “cannot and will not fulfill the provisions of the obsolete treaty to the detriment of its security” regarding flank limits. This seems to allude mainly to the northwestern flank, since Russia has for years exceeded the CFE treaty limits on the North Caucasus flank, using a treaty escape clause with full Western understanding.

If no agreement is reached on these and apparently also some other Russian demands, Russia reserves the right unilaterally to “suspend the validity” of the treaty or even abandon it altogether, Antonov warned the conference in his presentation. Suspension, he explained, would mean in practice that Russia would exempt itself from the treaty’s quantitative force ceilings and would quit the treaty’s system of mutual inspections and information exchanges on forces and movements.

Russia takes the position that “suspending the validity is a means for revitalizing the treaty.” It expects other signatory countries to refrain from “actions that would hamper the treaty’s revitalization” during the period of Russia’s unilateral suspension, should it come to that. Such “hampering” actions could lead Russia to abandon the CFE treaty, Antonov warned. He called for dialogue on the basis of these conditions.

That position seems legally nihilistic on at least three counts:

1) the treaty does not envisage any unilateral moratorium on obligations or suspension of terms;

2) Moscow wants the treaty to be ratified quickly — or even “temporarily validated” — in order to achieve its specific goal regarding the Baltic states, but wants the same treaty to be “temporarily suspended” if Russia does not achieve its other goals;

3) Moscow apparently expects to define itself what would constitute “hampering actions.”

Antonov, who is Russia’s top arms control official (chief of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Security and Disarmament Department) presented Moscow’s position to the closed-door conference, as reported by Russia’s official media (Itar-Tass, RIA-Novosti, June 12). The delegation’s deputy chief, Mikhail Ulyanov, elaborated on some of those points for Western media (AP, Reuters, International Herald Tribune, June 12, 13).

Moscow’s agenda at this conference goes vastly beyond what the Western allies and their partners had expected only days earlier. Generally they had expected a relatively simple, largely familiar scenario: Russia would demand ratification of the 1999 treaty, having only in part fulfilled its 1999 Istanbul Commitments; the Western allies would seek to square this circle in a creative way, particularly regarding Russian troops in Moldova; the door might then open for the Russia-desired accession of the Baltic states to the adapted CFE Treaty. However, Russia’s strategic ambitions in Europe seem to be outpacing Western prognostications (see EDM, May 25, June 8, 11).