Fulfilling a commitment made a dozen years ago, Russia announced June 7 that it had completed the destruction of thousands of tanks moved east of the Ural Mountains in 1989 and 1990. The United States and its NATO allies confirmed and welcomed the Russian announcement.
In June 1991, Moscow pledged to destroy or convert to civilian equipment 6,000 tanks, 1,500 armored combat vehicles (ACVs), and 7,000 heavy artillery pieces to ease Western criticism over its repositioning of some 57,000 of these weapons east of the Urals. If Moscow had not moved the weapons, it would have had to destroy most of them under the terms of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty then being negotiated with NATO. Although Russia’s relocation of the weapons did not violate any of its international commitments, NATO saw it as contrary to the spirit of the CFE talks.
The CFE Treaty aimed to balance the conventional armed forces of NATO and those of the Soviet Union and its allies in Europe. The treaty’s weapons limits applied only to arms in Europe, which was defined as ending at the Urals. Any weapons east of the Urals would not have been counted against the Soviet Union’s limits.
Originally, the Kremlin was supposed to finish its reduction activities before the end of 1995, but it failed to do so. Russia then agreed in 1996 to complete the task by 2000.
Yet, NATO and Russia recognized that completing the tank obligation by the 2000 deadline might not be possible. As a stopgap measure, the two sides agreed that Russia could temporarily meet its reduction goals by substituting up to 2,300 ACVs in lieu of tanks. This agreement, however, did not obviate Russia’s original requirement to make militarily unusable 6,000 total tanks but simply gave Moscow more time to do it—a task it finally accomplished this month.