Russia showed mixed success in July toward meeting commitments under the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and related agreements, missing a July 1 deadline to vacate a military base in Georgia but reducing the number of weapons located in Moldova.
In November 1999, Russia committed to closing two of its four military bases in Georgia by July 1, 2001, and to withdraw all its CFE-limited weaponry from Moldova by the end of 2001. The CFE Treaty caps the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), heavy artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters that its 30 states-parties can deploy and store between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains.
Although it officially handed over control of a Russian military base in Vaziani, Georgia, to Tbilisi on June 29, Russia failed to vacate a base at Gudauta by the July 1 deadline. Moscow claimed the local population had blocked Russian efforts to leave the base and that Georgia had failed to take necessary steps to ensure a safe withdrawal of Russian forces from the region.
Georgia dismissed Russia’s claims, contending that it had proposed alternative ways for Moscow to complete its withdrawal, including destruction of weaponry located at the base, but that Russia had rejected these suggestions. In a July 2 statement released by its Foreign Ministry, Georgia called on Russia to “take immediate and exhaustive measures for timely and complete fulfillment” of its withdrawal obligations.
The two governments are now holding talks to find a compromise, including the possibility of allowing a few hundred Russian troops to remain at the base. They are also trying to negotiate terms for Russia’s withdrawal from two other Georgian bases, which Tbilisi wants done within a three-year period, while Moscow is seeking a time frame of up to 14 years.
In Moldova, Russia is facing a more immediate deadline for complete withdrawal of all of its weapons and forces by the end of 2002. Although Moscow is generally perceived to be dragging its feet on meeting this overall commitment, it made substantial progress in July and August on its obligation to reduce its CFE-limited weaponry by the end of this year. Of the108 T-64 battle tanks and 131 ACVs Russia had in Moldova, just 25 tanks and 57 ACVs remain as of August 28, according to a spokesperson of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is monitoring Russia’s reduction activities in Moldova. Moscow is scheduled to start eliminating 125 heavy artillery pieces in October.
Within its borders, Russia is abiding by its overall CFE Treaty limits but it continues to deploy tanks and ACVs above sub-limits that cap its weapons deployments in its northern and southern regions, according to data from a recent treaty information exchange. The Kremlin claims its non-compliance is necessary to combat “terrorism” in Chechnya.
Russia’s excess is relatively small, numbering not more than 20 tanks and some 130 ACVs above the sublimits, which were outlined in a November 1999 overhaul of the treaty that has yet to enter into force. The United States and its fellow NATO members have conditioned their ratification of the agreement on all states-parties being in compliance with its provisions.
There is speculation that, even though Russia is close to compliance, it is unlikely to reduce its weapons holdings below the sublimits for some time because it may want to send additional forces into Chechnya. The Kremlin may be calculating that it would face less international condemnation and scrutiny by further exceeding the limits than by coming into compliance and then exceeding the limits again.