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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
NATO Accepts Russian CFE Compliance, But Wants More
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September 2002

By Wade Boese

NATO members informed Russia in July meetings that they accept its claims of being in compliance with weapons limits set out in the adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, but they also urged Moscow to fulfill other CFE-related obligations regarding Georgia and Moldova.

Since the November 1999 update of the CFE Treaty, the 19-member alliance had been pressing Moscow to reduce the number of tanks, armored combat vehicles (ACVs), and artillery it deployed in its northern and southern “flank” regions, which border Europe and the Black Sea. As part of the 1999 treaty overhaul, NATO agreed to relax the limits on the amount of heavy ground weaponry that Russia could keep in its flank areas, but Russia’s deployments still remained in excess of what was permitted.

The revised version of the treaty has not yet entered into force because NATO members conditioned their ratification of the adapted treaty on Russia complying with the accord’s terms. All 30 states-parties must ratify the adapted treaty for it to replace the original CFE Treaty, signed in 1990, which currently remains in force.

Russia declared early this year that it had met the revised limits, but NATO did not immediately accept the Kremlin’s claim and set out to verify it. Although NATO members concluded in July that there were still some uncertainties about Russia’s compliance, alliance members also found no evidence that Russian forces were exceeding their flank limits of 1,300 tanks, 2,140 ACVs, and 1,680 artillery pieces.

Despite being satisfied with Moscow’s weapons limit compliance, NATO members are still waiting before they ratify the adapted treaty because Russia has not fulfilled additional pledges it gave in November 1999 to withdraw its arms and forces from Georgia and Moldova. Russia has made some headway on meeting these commitments, but its efforts have stalled over the past several months.

Russia has disbanded two of its four bases in Georgia, although Georgian officials are unhappy with the number of Russian troops currently staying at one of the disbanded bases. Moreover, negotiations between Georgia and Russia on how long Russian forces could remain at the two other bases, which were supposed to be completed two years ago, have reached a stalemate. Georgia insists that Russian forces be gone within three years, while Russia wants 10 years to complete its withdrawal.

In Moldova, Russia withdrew all of its tanks, ACVs, and artillery as pledged, but it is at risk of missing an end-of-2002 deadline to completely withdraw all of its troops and equipment, including approximately 40,000 tons of stockpiled ammunition. Russia removed three trainloads of ammunition and destroyed some last year, but it has made no further progress since then.

Russia’s inactivity, in large part, stems from an ongoing conflict within Moldova. Russian troops and ammunition are located in the Transdniestria region of Moldova, which is under the control of ethnic Russian separatists, who are blocking Russia’s withdrawal efforts. The separatists are demanding that Moscow write off a $100 million gas debt before they let Russia resume its withdrawal.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring Russia’s withdrawal, recently reported that experts estimate that for Russia to successfully complete its withdrawal from Moldova by the end of the year, Moscow would need to ship out 20 railroad cars full of ammunition every two days. An OSCE official noted in an August 21 interview that Russia could still meet its withdrawal deadline but that “as each day passes, however, it becomes increasingly difficult.”