In December 2007, Moscow killed the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) officially, declaring a unilateral “moratorium” (suspension) of indefinite duration on Russia’s compliance with the CFE treaty and the accompanying Flank Document. Moscow’s official decision capped years of undeclared and unacknowledged breaches, including deployments of Russian forces in Georgia and Moldova.
Four years later, the United States and NATO are finally acknowledging Russia’s destruction of the CFE treaty. They are in turn ceasing to perform their treaty obligations vis-à-vis Russia. The cessation applies to military data exchanges and onsite verification inspections, as long as Russia continues not to perform its own obligations on that account.
These countermeasures, however, fall short of addressing Russia’s noncompliance with the treaty in Georgia and Moldova. Under the 1999 CFE treaty package, Russia had committed to withdraw its forces from Moldova and Georgia (“Istanbul Commitments,” with 2002 withdrawal deadlines for Russian troops from Transnistria and Abkhazia). More broadly, the CFE treaty does not allow the stationing of foreign forces without host-country-consent (which Georgia and Moldova never gave to Russia).
On November 22, US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced the US countermeasures. NATO countries followed suit on November 22 and November 29, each allied country speaking on its own behalf pursuant to a collective NATO decision in Brussels. In their pre-coordinated statements, the allied countries noted that Russia’s non-transparency and lack of reciprocity could not continue indefinitely without countermeasures on their part.
Effective immediately, the US and NATO allies (in their respective national capacities) will cease performing the CFE Treaty obligations regarding mutual inspections and data exchanges with Russia. They will no longer deliver information to Russia in the annual December exchange of information; no longer provide any notification of military activities to Russia; and no longer accept Russian-requested onsite inspections. The US and Allies will, however, continue to perform all their obligations vis-a-vis all the other state-parties to the CFE treaty. Full implementation of those obligations vis-a-vis Russia would resume when Moscow resumes performing its obligations on these same treaty aspects. Meanwhile, the US and allies intend voluntarily to inform Russia about any “significant” changes in their force posture in Europe (i.e., at their discretion) (US State Department and NATO press releases, November 22, 29).
The OSCE is the CFE treaty’s nominal custodian organization. The OSCE’s Joint Consultative Group (JCG) in Vienna is the forum for discussing the CFE treaty’s implementation by the 30 signatory countries. Given Russia’s veto power, the JCG can at best discuss, but was never able to deal with, Russia’s breaches of the CFE treaty.
On November 29, in the JCG’s final meeting this year, Georgia announced that it would take the same steps as the NATO countries with regard to Russia. Additionally, Georgia noted Russia’s noncompliance with its 1999 commitments on troop withdrawals, its breach of the host-country-consent principle, and its military occupation of Georgia’s territories since 2008. Azerbaijan referenced the 2008 war as well as Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijani territories, noting in its statement that the CFE treaty failed to prevent military aggression in the South Caucasus (OSCE JCG documents, November 29).
Russia has found a new excuse for violating the host-country-consent principle. Russian officials claim, first, that Abkhazia and South Ossetia have given their consent to the stationing of Russian forces, under bilateral treaties, since Russia “recognized” these two “states” in 2008. Moscow further claims that it can no longer consider complying with the CFE treaty in the case of Georgia, and not even accept the host-country-consent “to be cast in stone” as a general principle in an international treaty. The excuse is that doing so would imply de-“recognizing” Abkhazia and South Ossetia and implicitly accepting the Western position on “Georgia’s territorial integrity in its old borders,” which Russia cannot do. Russia’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, presented this position at the latest NATO-Russia Council session, when NATO made a last-minute attempt to avoid taking the countermeasures. The Russian Security Council’s Deputy Secretary, Vladimir Nazarov, reinforced that argument at a high-level conference on Euro-Atlantic security in Moscow (Izvestiya, November 15; Interfax, November 30).
Moscow’s suggestion that it can no longer accept the host-country-consent principle even theoretically (after breaching it in practice anyway) holds potential implications beyond Georgia, possibly affecting Moldova, where Tiraspol authorities are available at any time to “host” Russian forces.
Meanwhile, Chisinau keeps silent in the debate on the CFE treaty and the Western countermeasures. The US and other Western governments have fully informed Chisinau, ahead of their November 22 announcements about the countermeasures. In Washington, Vienna, and elsewhere, diplomats are trying to elicit Moldova’s official position, particularly on the key issue of whether Moldova would rally to the US/NATO position or not. Chisinau has missed the deadlines of the November 22 and 29 JCG meetings. Chisinau’s final deadline would be December 14, when the annual exchange of information among CFE signatory countries is scheduled to take place, and Chisinau’s Western partners will no longer provide that information to Russia.