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Russia Reduces CFE-Limited Weapons in Georgia

Wade Boese

Starting to fulfill a November 1999 pledge to reduce its weaponry and to close two military bases in Georgia, Russia loaded a train with weapons and military equipment for shipment out of Georgia on August 4. The Russian weapons relocation may help lessen Moscow's current non-compliance with specific Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty "flank" limits that cap Russian arms levels in its Northern and Southern border regions. Russia's total military holdings are below overall CFE limits.

Last November, the 30 states party to the CFE Treaty—which limits the number of tanks, artillery, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that states-parties can hold between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains—agreed to overhaul the treaty to reflect the post-Cold War European security environment. (See ACT, November 1999.) The November 19 "adaptation agreement" replaced the original treaty's two equal bloc limits for NATO and the now-defunct Warsaw Pact with a system of individual national limits. The adaptation agreement needs to be ratified by all CFE parties before the new structure and limits can enter into force.

In conjunction with the adaptation agreement, the CFE parties adopted a Final Act, which included a number of political, not legally binding, commitments by several countries. Russia pledged to reduce its ground treaty-limited equipment in Georgia to a maximum level of 153 tanks, 241 ACVs, and 140 artillery pieces by the end of 2000. In addition, Moscow committed to closing two of its four military bases in Georgia by July 1, 2001.

At a July information exchange this year, Russia declared a total of 141 tanks, 482 ACVs, and 166 artillery pieces stationed in Georgia. Meeting the lower levels and closing the two bases, according to a Georgian official, is expected to total some 14 or 15 trainloads of weapons and equipment. Once Russia's holdings comply with the limits pledged in the Final Act, Moscow will not be obligated to ship additional weaponry out of Georgia; therefore, not all of the weapons located at the two bases being disbanded will necessarily leave Georgia.

Although Georgia and Russia have yet to settle on the total cost of the operation or how to divide up the amount, the United States has authorized up to $10 million to assist the effort. On July 14, at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Britain recommended creation of a voluntary fund for helping Russia complete the withdrawal and pledged approximately $148,000. The OSCE formally established the fund on August 23, and other countries have expressed interest in contributing.

The ultimate destination of equipment shipped out of Georgia is unclear at this time. Georgia is located in the so-called CFE flank zone, which caps the total amount of ground weaponry that can be deployed in the northern and southern flanks of Europe. The zone encompasses 10 countries entirely and portions of Russia and Ukraine.

Under a May 1996 agreement, the limits applied to Russia's flank zone were increased (to 1,800 tanks, 3,700 ACVs, and 2,400 artillery) while Russia's original CFE flank limits (1,300 tanks, 1,380 ACVs, and 1,680 artillery) were applied to a smaller region within the flank zone. Russia is exceeding the larger limits by about 800 to 1,000 ACVs, while being only slightly above its tank and artillery limits. If Russia transports its excess Georgian weaponry entirely out of the flank zone, it would help reduce this treaty noncompliance, which has been exaggerated by Russia's ongoing conflict in Chechnya.

NATO's 19 members state they will not ratify the adaptation agreement until all parties have complied with the limits it sets forth. Though Russia is provided more lenient weapons limits under the November 1999 adaptation agreement—the larger flank limits on the original zone are eliminated and the reduced zone's ACV limit is increased to 2,140—Moscow is still over the permitted ACV level. Only Belarus, which announced its action on June 9 at a meeting of CFE parties, has ratified the adaptation agreement.

While noting that a "number of technical issues remain to be resolved," the U.S. government stated it is "pleased" that Russia started the Georgian withdrawal process. Russia has made little progress in similar vows in the Final Act to withdraw or destroy all its CFE-limited arms, totaling some 350 to 375 weapons, in Moldova, which does not want Russian equipment stationed on its territory. Russia pledged to complete this task by the end of 2001.