“It will take all of us working together – government officials, and diplomats, academic experts, and scientists, activists, and organizers – to come up with new and innovative approaches to strengthen transparency and predictability, reduce risk, and forge the next generation of arms control agreements.”
– Wendy Sherman
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
June 2, 2022
CFE Review Conference Held; Russian Compliance Urged
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Wade Boese

Meeting May 28-June 1 in Vienna for the second review conference of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, the 30 states-parties touted treaty successes, though NATO members and other European countries called on Russia to fulfill its commitments to lower its weapons deployments in the North Caucasus region and to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova.

Moscow gave assurances that it would meet all these obligations but also used the treaty review conference to register its long-standing opposition to NATO expansion, warning against the possible inclusion of any or all the Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—in the next round of expansion, which is expected to take place in 2002. A June 4 Kremlin press release said NATO invitations offering alliance membership to any of the Baltic countries could have “destructive implications” for key provisions of the treaty.

Originally signed by members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact in November 1990, the CFE Treaty capped the number and location of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that the two military blocs could keep between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. A 1999 treaty adaptation agreement, which has not yet entered into force, replaces the bloc limits with specific caps on the amount of treaty-limited arms that each nation can possess in the entire treaty area and have deployed within its own borders.

At the conference, the states-parties deemed the treaty’s accomplishments “impressive.” The countries reported in their “formal conclusions” of the review conference that they had reduced their arsenals by more than 59,000 weapons and carried out more than 3,300 on-site inspections and observation visits under the accord.

In addition, the states-parties noted that Moscow had completed the destruction or conversion of 14,500 additional weapons in accordance with a 1991 pledge. That pledge was designed to ease NATO unhappiness after the Kremlin moved an estimated 57,000 arms east of the Ural Mountains before signing the CFE Treaty in order to exempt the weapons from the treaty. Under the pledge, Russia is obligated to destroy another 2,300 tanks, a commitment on which it is currently working.

Russia is also gradually drawing down the tanks, ACVs, and artillery it currently has deployed in violation of the treaty’s flank-zone limits, which cap the amount of ground weaponry located in the northern and southern regions of Europe. The exact magnitude of Russia’s noncompliance with its flank-zone limits is uncertain but will become clearer after a July 1 information exchange. In the past, Russia, whose total weapon holdings are below its overall CFE limits, has reported exceeding its flank limits for ACVs by approximately 1,000 or more and exceeding its tank and artillery limits by much smaller amounts.

Although Moscow maintains that its current noncompliance stems from the need to combat separatists in Chechnya, Russia has long objected to the flank-zone limits because it is one of only two countries (the other being Ukraine) that has limits on where it can deploy its own weaponry on its own territory. Nevertheless, NATO has insisted that Moscow meet its limits, which have been revised twice—the latest in the 1999 treaty adaptation—to allow Russia more weapons in the region.

Russia has also been slow in fulfilling its obligations under the CFE Final Act, a series of nonbinding political commitments concluded in conjunction with the adaptation agreement, in which Moscow pledged to withdraw its weapons from Georgia and Moldova. Russia successfully finished the first phase of its withdrawal from Georgia last year by reducing its number of tanks, ACVs, and artillery to agreed levels, and it appears that it will have disbanded two of its four military bases in Georgia by July 1 as promised.

Moscow and Tbilisi, however, have not been able to work out the details for how long Russian forces may remain at the other two bases. The negotiations, which were suppose to be completed by the end of last year, have been held up by Russian insistence that it maintain basing privileges for 14 years (initially it wanted privileges for 25 years) whereas Georgia prefers a three-year period, though Tbilisi has recently suggested it would show some flexibility.

Russian progress in withdrawing from Moldova has been negligible. Russia is expected to withdraw its CFE-limited weapons by the end of this year, and all Russian military forces are to exit by the end of 2002, but only one trainload of Russian military equipment has been shipped out of the country over the past seven months.

Part of the delay stems from the problem of what to do with a Russian ammunition dump of approximately 42,000 tons. Moldova does not want Russia simply to leave the stockpile behind because it would likely fall under control of Moldavian separatists in the Transdnistria region, who are led by ethnic Russians.

On June 15, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed an agreement with Russia detailing which Russian withdrawal activities from Moldova the OSCE would be willing to facilitate and how it would do so. The United States has also offered to reimburse Russian expenses incurred in withdrawing from both Georgia and Moldova, though Moscow has yet to accept.