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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Conventional Arms Treaty Dispute Persists

Wade Boese

Russia and NATO are still at odds over a European conventional arms pact despite an emergency meeting June 11-15 to discuss their differences. Russia is complaining that its long-standing concerns are still being ignored but has not suspended implementation of the treaty as it previously warned it might.

Anatoly Antonov, who heads the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of International Security and Disarmament, asserted that other states paid only “lip service” to Russia’s positions at the Vienna gathering. The 26-member NATO alliance issued a statement expressing “regret” that no agreement could be reached.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had said in April that Russia might halt implementation of the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, which caps the number of battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft that 30 countries can station between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains. Antonov said June 15, however, that a possible suspension was now “closer.”

Under a suspension or moratorium, Antonov explained, Russia would stop treaty inspections, notifications, and data exchanges. It would also consider moot weapons limits on Russian arms deployments in its northern and southern regions, or so-called flanks. But he said Moscow did not intend to increase its weapons deployments or withdraw from the treaty, which requires at least a 150-day advance notice.

Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, who led the U.S. delegation to the conference, told reporters June 12 that Russia had not indicated that a possible suspension was “imminent” but acknowledged that “it is certainly on the table.” A U.S. government official told Arms Control Today June 20 that “everybody is waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Citing “serious problems” with NATO behavior under the CFE Treaty, Moscow called May 28 for the “extraordinary conference” on the accord. Russian negotiators arrived at the Vienna gathering with a half-dozen “problems” to discuss.

Russia’s main complaint is that NATO countries are refusing to ratify a November 1999 revision of the agreement, known as the Adapted CFE Treaty. Entry into force of that updated accord requires ratification by all the original treaty states-parties. Thus far, however, only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine have done so.

NATO members are postponing ratification of the adapted treaty, which replaces bloc and geographic arms limits with national weapon ceilings, until Russia withdraws its military forces from the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova. Moscow pledged to do so in documents concluded in parallel with the revised accord at a summit in Istanbul. (See ACT, November 1999. ) Kremlin officials charge the NATO linkage is “artificial.”

Moscow is eager for the adapted treaty to take effect because it loosens Russian flank restrictions, enabling larger Russian force deployments in the volatile Caucasus region, which includes Chechnya. The Kremlin wants to eventually negotiate away the flank limits entirely, but NATO countries have not agreed to do so.

The adapted treaty also contains an accession clause not included in the original treaty. Russian officials are unhappy that NATO members Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia are outside the treaty and without weapons limits. The four states have pledged to join the adapted treaty when the option becomes available.

NATO governments maintain that Russia holds the key to making this happen by ending its military presence in Georgia and Moldova.

Russia is working to close two remaining bases in Georgia by the end of 2008. But Georgia charges Russia has not fully abandoned another base, Gudauta, as claimed. This base is located in Abkhazia, a separatist region in Georgia.

The Kremlin’s withdrawal from Moldova has been stalled since 2004. Approximately 1,300 Russian forces remain inside the breakaway region of Transdniestria, where some of the troops are guarding a 21,000-metric-ton ammunition stockpile.

At the June conference, NATO members reiterated proposals to help Russia exit the two states. They suggested that multinational peacekeepers replace Russian forces in Moldova and that a voluntary international fund help pay for the destruction and removal of the ammunition. They also reaffirmed a German offer to lead a fact-finding mission to Gudauta to assess its status.

The Russian delegation dismissed the NATO proposals as nothing new and said the Georgian and Moldovan situations were being handled bilaterally. It insisted that NATO members should start ratifying the adapted treaty or that all CFE states-parties should provisionally apply the updated accord no later than July 1, 2008. NATO opposes this proposal.

The Russian and NATO delegations left the conference saying they were open to further talks, and Germany offered to host another conference for that purpose this fall.