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Russia, NATO at Loggerheads Over Military Bases

Wade Boese

Reviving memories of their bitter Cold War rivalry, NATO and Russia are engaging in increasingly sharp exchanges over each other’s military deployments and basing plans.

Speaking Feb. 7 at a two-day security conference in Munich, Germany, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was fast becoming obsolete and that it could end up scrapped. In doing so, he drew a pointed comparison to the June 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The CFE Treaty limits how much heavy weaponry, such as tanks, that 30 countries—including Russia and the United States—can deploy in Europe.

The 30 CFE states-parties negotiated an adapted version of the treaty in November 1999 to reflect the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the expansion of NATO, but it has yet to enter into force. Washington and other NATO capitals are refusing to ratify the revised agreement until Russia fulfills pledges to withdraw its armed forces from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova.

In conjunction with the adaptation of the CFE Treaty, Russia committed to withdraw all of its military troops and equipment out of Moldova by the end of 2002, close two out of four of its military bases in Georgia by the end of 2000, and reach a timetable with Georgia during 2000 for closure of the two remaining bases. Russia has not completed any of these tasks.

Ivanov charged that the status of Russia’s withdrawal from the two states does not have “the slightest relationship” to the adapted CFE Treaty.

Moscow is eager to bring the revised treaty into force because the older version does not limit how many arms NATO can deploy on the territories of four of the seven additional states scheduled to join the 19-member alliance by May. Specifically, the original treaty does not cover Slovenia and the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The Kremlin claims that NATO could then legally deploy limitless stockpiles of weaponry on Russia’s border.

If these four states join NATO before the adapted CFE Treaty enters into force, Ivanov said the original treaty limits would be “imperfect, rather ineffective, and removed from reality.”

Ivanov implied that the addition of the new NATO members could lead to a reversal of Russian force reductions in its northwestern region and in the Kaliningrad enclave, which sits between Poland and Lithuania.

Ivanov also questioned U.S. and alliance proposals to begin breaking up their large military bases into smaller deployments closer to Russia’s border. The defense minister said he understood the need for bases in Bulgaria and Romania as a launching point to counter terrorism but rhetorically asked why such bases were necessary in Poland and the three Baltic states.

In a move designed to ease Russian concerns about NATO expansion to the east, NATO and Russia concluded an agreement in May 1997, the NATO-Russian Founding Act, in which the alliance pledged that its growth would not lead to “additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces” on the territories of new members. The act was not legally binding.

“I would like to remind the representatives of [NATO] that with its expansion they are beginning to operate in the zone of vitally important interests of our country and ought to strive actually, not just in words, to consider our concerns,” Ivanov declared. He suggested one way to address Russian concerns is for NATO to permit the permanent stationing of Russian monitoring personnel at any new NATO bases. Moscow already has rights to inspect NATO bases periodically.

Ivanov ended his speech with a flourish, accusing U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan of being complicit in that state’s illegal drug trade, which was threatening Russia. “I understand that, by allowing the drug business in Afghanistan, [NATO] gets the loyalty of field commanders and individual leaders of Afghanistan,” he stated.

NATO, particularly the United States, is pushing Russia to remove its military forces from Georgia and Moldova. During a late January trip to Georgia and Russia, Secretary of State Colin Powell repeatedly called on Moscow to fulfill its withdrawal commitments.

The Kremlin had contended it would take at least 11 years to pull its troops and arms out of Georgia, but Russian officials are now suggesting that it might be possible within a five-to-seven-year period if it receives financial assistance. Powell said the United States would contribute to such an effort, but that Russian estimates of hundreds of millions of dollars are unreasonable. Georgia has consistently called for a three-year process.

Russia has made fitful progress in withdrawing from Moldova and estimates are that it only has several months worth of work remaining. However, such projections are optimistically based on the withdrawal not being interrupted. The withdrawal is currently suspended.

Moscow pleads that it is not responsible for the irregular implementation. Instead, it blames Moldavian separatists who control the region where Russian forces are located for blocking the withdrawal. The separatists are demanding compensation for the Russian departure.