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Russia Profile
June 19, 2007
The End of Arms Control?
Russia's Attempts to Renegotiate the CFE Treaty Have Yet to Produce Results

By Dmitry Babich

The recent conference on the destiny of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty failed to produce any substantial agreements, which puts at risk the future of one of the last remaining arms control agreements between Russia and the NATO countries.

The conference was convened in Vienna at Russia's request soon after a statement President Vladimir Putin made in his annual Address to the Federal Assembly on April 26. In this speech Putin expressed his dissatisfaction with the fact that Russia fulfils its obligations under the treaty - signed in 1990 and updated in 1999 - unilaterally. Russia ratified the treaty in 2004, which limits the amounts of troops and conventional weapons that it can keep on various parts of its territory, in 2004. Some NATO countries, such as the Baltic States and Slovakia, are not even signatories of the treaty; the others have promised to ratify it when Russia finalizes the pullout of its troops from Georgia and Moldova.

"I propose discussing the issue at the Russia-NATO Council, and if progress is not reached in negotiations, consider the possibility of terminating our obligations under the CFE Treaty," Putin said in his address. In Putin's view, a possible moratorium on Russia's participation in CFE could be used to stimulate discussion on it.

So far, the Russian push for speedier ratification of the treaty by all NATO members has gone unheeded. NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer expressed his "concern" upon hearing Putin's statement and said he hoped Russia would stay within the treaty. The Russian delegation in Vienna, headed by Anatoly Antonov, director of the foreign ministry's security department, and Yevgeny Buzhinsky, head of the defense ministry's international department, stressed that Russia did not want to leave the treaty or "bury" it. According to sources within the Russian delegation, Moscow's goal is to adapt the treaty to the new realities in Europe, making Russia's obligations more equitable. The Russian delegation even distributed a draft of the conference's closing statement to journalists, which could serve as a "road map" of the moves that could modernize the CFE in the next year.

The Russian side has two main demands. First, the former Soviet bloc countries that joined NATO since it started expanding in 1999 have to be viewed by the new treaty as a part of the "Western bloc" of nations and not of the "Eastern" one as they were in 1990, when the pro-Soviet Warsaw Treaty Organization still existed. Right now, even the staunchly anti-Russian Baltic States, which were once Soviet republics, are viewed by the CFE as potential allies of Russia and not of NATO. Second, ratification of the updated CFE by NATO countries should not be tied to the final withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Moldova. The NATO officials insist that this link was agreed upon with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin during negotiations in Istanbul in 1999. In talks with journalists prior to coming to Vienna, Buzhinsky denied this, saying that Yeltsin never signed any papers on the matter. In Buzhinsky's words, the promise "to start negotiations concerning the future withdrawal" of Russian forces from Georgia and Moldova allowed for a very broad interpretation, and was signed by a minor member of the Russian delegation in Istanbul, not by Yeltsin himself.

Russian experts, however, agree that there is little possibility that Moscow's demands will be met by the NATO side. "So far, only those international agreements on arms control that limited the American defense capacity were reconsidered," said Sergei Rogov, director of the Institute of the U.S.A. and Canada at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

According to Rogov's estimates, when the CFE treaty was signed in 1990, the Soviet bloc had at its disposal 41,000 tanks, while NATO had only 30,000. Currently, Russia has 5,000 tanks and the expanded NATO has 14,000 tanks. Moreover, some of these forces are now located in much greater proximity to Russia's borders than in 1990.

"Russia cannot just ignore this difference in defense potential," said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Center for Military Forecasting at the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. "We can't satisfy ourselves by reassuring statements that NATO is no threat to Russia and that we cooperate in many spheres. At the summits, we may see our leaders smile and pat each other on the back, but at the grassroots level the attitude is much worse."

But what will happen if Russia ultimately leaves the CFE treaty? According to Tsyganok, Russia would stop receiving international inspections at the locations of its conventional forces. Moscow will also stop providing information on the location of its forces and their number, nor will Russia be bound to keep the number of its troops and munitions at an artificially low level. However, Antonov promised that even if Russia withdraws from the treaty, "there will be no increase in the amount of weapons." Russia's moratorium on the treaty may lead to a reduction of confidence-building measures, but not to a new "arms race." However, experts warn that watering down the treaty could have a negative impact on arms control in combination with other treaties being canceled.

"The ABM treaty is now dead and the START II treaty has been put on hold. The Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, signed by Presidents Bush and Putin in 2002, has a very slim chance of actually being ratified and enacted. START I is in danger too. All of this creates a very bad picture of the whole old system of arms control being thrown out with nothing to replace it," said Rogov.