Russia Suspends CFE Treaty Implementation

Wade Boese

Russia followed through on its earlier threat to suspend implementation of a treaty limiting conventional weapons deployments in Europe by not providing a required year-end accounting of its forces. Yet, Moscow did not sever all ties to the pact as Russia continued to participate in the treaty’s governing body.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last July 14 initiated the countdown on his country’s break with the 1990 Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, decreeing implementation of the accord would cease in 150 days if treaty limits on Russia and NATO were not altered to Moscow’s satisfaction. Russian lawmakers endorsed Putin’s plan in November, and Russia’s Foreign Ministry formally announced the suspension Dec. 12.

In its statement, the ministry declared Russia would no longer provide information on or host inspections of its treaty-limited weapons: tanks, armored combat vehicles, heavy artillery, attack helicopters, and combat aircraft. The Foreign Ministry further stated Russia would not be “bound” by the treaty’s arms ceilings and deployment restrictions. The statement, however, noted that Russia currently has “no plans” for a “massive buildup” of its forces.

Russia proclaimed its readiness to continue talks with other governments about the treaty and held out the possibility of reversing the suspension in “a fairly short space of time” if events warranted. The treaty does not contain a provision for suspension, only withdrawal.

The United States, which withdrew from the U.S.-Russian Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, condemned Russia’s action in a Dec. 12 statement from Department of State spokesperson Sean McCormack. Calling the suspension “the wrong decision,” McCormack urged Russia to undo its move.

That same day, the 26-member NATO alliance also criticized Russia’s suspension as “particularly disappointing.” Still, the alliance said its 22 members belonging to the treaty would not “respond in kind at this stage” and would continue to fulfill their treaty obligations, including a year-end weapons data exchange scheduled for that week.

In the first demonstration of its suspension, Russia did not participate in that data exchange. CFE Treaty states-parties use that data to help determine inspection quotas over the coming year. Russia has hosted roughly 50 total inspections annually.

Meanwhile, Moscow volunteered a separate report on its military forces to the 55 other members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which includes all CFE Treaty states-parties. That report, however, is less precise in accounting for weapons and their location than the CFE Treaty data exchange.

Despite its CFE Treaty suspension, Russia attended the Joint Consultative Group (JCG) through its routine Dec. 18 closure. That Vienna-based body is where CFE Treaty states-parties discuss all treaty-related matters. Russian officials apparently gave no indication that they would not return to the JCG when it resumes in mid-January.

There is typically a lull in CFE Treaty activities during January and February until a new inspection season starts in March. NATO countries will likely test Russia’s suspension then by requesting inspections of its military forces.

Moscow has specified steps that NATO can take to end the suspension. These include alliance members cutting their arms allotments and further restricting temporary weapons deployments on each NATO member’s territory. Russia also wants constraints eliminated on how many forces it can deploy in its southern and northern flanks. Moreover, the Kremlin is pressing NATO members to ratify a 1999 updated version of the accord, known as the Adapted CFE Treaty, and demanding that the four alliance members outside the original treaty, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia, join it.

NATO members say they share the goal of bringing the adapted accord into effect as soon as possible, but had maintained collectively that they would not ratify the agreement until Russia fulfilled commitments to withdraw military forces from Georgia and Moldova. Russia made those pledges in conjunction with the adapted treaty’s completion, and many NATO governments saw them as prerequisites for concluding the adapted treaty. (See ACT, November 1999. ) Notwithstanding the lingering presence of Russian forces in Moldova and Georgia, NATO recently suggested that some of its members might soon begin their ratification processes on the adapted treaty.

All 30 original CFE Treaty states-parties must ratify the adapted agreement in order for it to replace its predecessor. Only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine have done so, although Ukraine has not deposited its instrument of ratification. Once the adapted agreement enters into force, the four non-CFE Treaty NATO members say they will join the accord, which unlike the older version has an accession option.

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