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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
Gabriela Iveliz Rosa Hernández

How Russia’s retreat from the Vienna Document information exchange undermines European security

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has inflicted much suffering, amplified international divisions, and made any attempt to build common security extremely difficult. Moscow’s war on Ukraine also hobbled several arms control and security agreements—including, now, the Vienna Document . Hosted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna Document is a confidence- and security-building mechanism that allows participants to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant activities to prevent misinterpretation of each other’s...

Russia Refuses Annual Vienna Document Data Exchange

March 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

Foreign ministers representing the 57 participating states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe discussed regional security challenges created by Russia’s war against Ukraine during its annual meeting in Lodz, Poland, in December. (Photo by Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)The failure to participate in the annual data exchange occurs as Russia is waging an illegal war against Ukraine, suspending its participation in the last treaty limiting Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear weapons and taking other steps to undermine the post-Cold War European security architecture.

Overseen by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna Document is a confidence and security-building mechanism that has allowed the 57 participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant events to prevent misinterpretation of these activities. It is one the few remaining mechanisms for political and military cooperation in Europe.

Moscow’s decision was first communicated on Jan. 16, 2022, in a letter signed by Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian arms control delegation in Vienna, to Siniša Bencun, the ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the OSCE who at the time also chaired the organization’s Forum for Security and Cooperation.

Gavrilov said that Russia would not provide national information about its armed forces for 2023 as stipulated by Chapter I of the Vienna Document, essentially suspending its participation in the annual exchange that is supposed to be provided each year by Dec. 15.

Russia still has not provided the required data even though the new reporting year has begun, an official from an OSCE participating state told Arms Control Today on condition of anonymity.

In his letter, Gavrilov wrote that the Russian decision “was taken in response to the Czech Republic’s step to suspend the implementation of its commitments under [the Vienna Document] towards Russia and due to Ukraine’s interpretative statement about its refusal to participate in the 2023 [annual information exchange], as well as to send certain routine notifications provided by the Vienna Document.”

“We proceed from the assumption that if the Russian Federation exchanges its national [data] report, it will for sure end up in the hands of the above-mentioned participating states,” he added.

The letter also accused 29 of the participating states, including Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, of not providing certain notifications on time and alleged that the Netherlands excluded Russia from the list of notification recipients. In addition, Russia accused Bulgaria, France, and Poland of not inviting Russian representatives to their military bases.

As of February, 50 participating states provided the required information for 2023, the official from the OSCE participating state said, while Armenia, Mongolia, Poland, and Ukraine, provided information “on delay,” meaning they were late. The remaining two countries, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, have not submitted information for years.

When asked about Russia’s accusations, U.S. State Department spokesperson, Ned Price said in an email on Feb. 28 that, “the United States continues to fully adhere to all of its commitments under the Vienna Document 2011 on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, including the provision of required notifications and other information to all Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating states, among them Russia.”

Price did not specifically address the issue of Russian compliance.

According to Western officials, Russian adherence to the document has long been eroding. As Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu said in August, “the Vienna Document 2011 remains formally in force, but there are no prospects for its practical implementation.”

“In the absence of trust between the parties, the verification mechanism actually becomes a source of intelligence information, which does not meet the spirit of the agreement," he said at the Moscow Conference on International Security.

When Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine requested under Chapter III of the document that the OSCE send unarmed military and civilian personnel to its territory, starting in Odesa, to dispel concerns about military activity. OSCE military assessment personnel were denied entry to Crimea.

In 2021, Ukraine called for a meeting under Chapter III and requested that Russia clarify its military activities as Russian forces were building up near the Ukrainian border. Russia refused to respond to the inquiry and insisted that it had no obligation to do so but accepted a Swiss inspection in the territories of Voronezh and Belgorod.

In early 2022, before launching its full-scale war on Ukraine, Russia announced that it would no longer host visits to verify the data part of the information exchange or inspections of specified areas to observe military activities. It cited the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason.

Many recent Western proposals for modernizing the Vienna Document have focused on confidence- and security-building measures as a crisis response tool. Because of the deterioration of the European security architecture, efforts after 2014 were also geared toward the prevention of military incidents between NATO allies and Russia. The latest initiative came just before the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine when Western nations offered arms control ideas to build a common security in Europe.

The West has long been concerned about Russian adherence to the Vienna Document. But Moscow’s decision to further cloak its military activities and conventional forces makes the situation worse by signaling a return to full scale strategic ambiguity as its forces and equipment are spent in Ukraine.

Russia has also increased its defense budget and mobilized its defense industry to support its war in Ukraine. On Dec. 21, Russia announced that it planned to carry out in 2023 its large-scale Zapad exercise, which typically takes place every four years and focuses on the Russian Western Military District and Belarus.

Russia has reneged on another international commitment by refusing to share data on its military forces with 57 participating states as called for in the Vienna Document, according to a letter obtained by Arms Control Today and a European official.

NPT Nuclear-Weapon States Meet in Dubai

March 2023

The five nuclear-weapon states recognized under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), known as the P5, met in Dubai on Feb. 2–3 to discuss reducing the risk of nuclear war.

The meeting, part of the P5 process, took place at the expert level rather than the more senior ministerial level. But each side brought interagency delegations representing their foreign and defense ministries, as well as military forces, which suggests they were serious about engaging on nuclear issues. They agreed to meet again although a date has not been set.

The United States currently chairs the P5 process, which has slowed substantially since Russia launched a full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022. In the meantime, Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued nuclear threats and on Feb. 21 announced he was suspending Russian participation in the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the last remaining formal limit on Russian and U.S. strategic weapons.

The five countries last met during a side event at the NPT review conference in August and a short meeting in October.—GABRIELA ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

NPT Nuclear-Weapon States Meet in Dubai

Turkey Vows to Extend Ballistic Missile Range

March 2023

Turkey plans to nearly double the range of its ballistic missiles, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Jan. 14.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, shown speaking to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in January, has announced plans to double the range of his country's ballistic missiles. (Photo by ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images)“Currently, our missile range is 565 kilometers. This is insufficient; we will increase it to 1,000 kilometers,” Erdoğan said during a visit to the southwestern province of Mugla, according to Daily Sabah and Turkish Minute.

Erdoğan was assumed to be referring to the Tayfun, or Typhoon, missile, which was developed by the Turkish rocket and missile center Roketsan. Last October, Turkey tested the missile, which flew about 561 kilometers before crashing off the coast of the Black Sea port of Sinop. (See ACT, December 2022.) The range of the Tayfun is twice that of the known ballistic missiles already in the Turkish arsenal.

The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a voluntary grouping, aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological, or nuclear attacks. It encourages its members to curb their exports of missiles and related technologies capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers.

The Tayfun missile was the first that Turkey tested that exceeds the MTCR range. A modification to the existing range would make the Tayfun a medium-range ballistic missile. It is unclear if Turkey plans to export the missile or simply boost its domestic capability.—GABRIELA ROSA HERNÁNDEZ

Turkey Vows to Extend Ballistic Missile Range

OSCE in Crisis Over Russian War on Ukraine

January/February 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Russia and its war on Ukraine are disrupting the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the leading forum for addressing security and stability concerns in that region.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ministerial council met in December in Lodz, Poland. (Photo: OSCE/MFA Poland)For the first time, the annual OSCE Ministerial Council meeting, which took place Dec. 1–2 in Lodz, Poland, failed to adopt any decisions. This includes the failure to approve an OSCE budget proposal of $143 million that Russia, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, blocked, according to Stephanie Liechtenstein in the Security and Human Rights Monitor newsletter.

Without a budget, the OSCE can operate only in a limited manner. Instead of undertaking new projects, including conflict prevention missions, it can implement only those already established in last year’s budget. “What else will be blocked by Russia?” Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, the OSCE chair, said in his opening statement at the meeting.

Rau listed other OSCE activities that have been stymied by Moscow, including the election of the 2024 OSCE chair and a mandate for a special monitoring mission to Ukraine.

This year also marked the first time that a chair banned a foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov of Russia, from attending the ministerial council meeting, the Security and Human Rights Monitor reported. Poland refused to issue a visa for Lavrov to enter the country, but the Russian ambassador to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, was present.

Russia condemned Poland’s decision, and Lavrov told a press conference Dec. 1 that “[i]t is important to say that Poland's ‘anti-chairmanship’ will one day be seen as the unsightliness period in the OSCE history. No one has ever done so much damage to the OSCE while being at the helm.”

Russia has long complained about the OSCE, which takes a comprehensive approach to regional conflicts, arguing that it should discuss hard security issues rather than human rights and fair elections. “Moscow is not yet considering withdrawing from the OSCE, or suspending membership, but [its] patience is not unlimited,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said March 3.

Liechtenstein wrote in Foreign Policy that Russia is using the budget as a “political tool to erode the activities of vital OSCE institutions.”

Russia’s war against Ukraine has created serious new tensions, with many OSCE participating states unified in providing military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Another irritant is the illegal detainment of three OSCE mission members by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Every year, foreign ministers from 57 OSCE participating states, including from Central Asia and the Caucasus, meet to make key decisions about the organization’s future agenda. The ministerial council is its central governing body, and decisions are made by consensus.

At the meeting, most states condemned Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and described it as a violation of the Helsinki Final Act, the OSCE founding document.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated his call for Russia’s suspension from the OSCE. “You all have seen the horrors of this war, and the question now is what makes possible the presence of the Russian nameplate at the table,” Kuleba said Dec. 1.

But other participating states were cool to terminating or suspending Russian participation, and some states, such as Austria, Hungary, and Kazakhstan, criticized Poland’s decision to exclude Lavrov from the meeting. There is no clear mechanism for banning a participating state from the OSCE.

Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Dec. 1 that he regretted Lavrov’s absence. “Representatives of all states should be granted access to high-level meetings like the one today. Let us not destroy this unique platform that used to be our collective answer to the tensions of the Cold War and the deep divisions between East and West,” he said.

Many states still regard the organization as a useful platform for dialogue even when consensus is lacking. For instance, despite tensions with Russia, military information exchanges at the OSCE have continued at a high rate in 2022.

An OSCE official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arms Control Today that although many participating states empathize with Ukraine, all need to understand that Ukraine is not the only conflict in the OSCE region that needs to be addressed.

At the meeting, Victoria Nuland, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, stressed the OSCE’s value. “[I]t's important not just for Europe, it's important for the world because this organization has set the gold standard for tools that we are now exporting to other continents to help solve conflicts, defend democracy, defend a free press, defend security, and ensure military transparency,” she said.

North Macedonia will take over the OSCE chairmanship for 2023.

The OSCE evolved during the Cold War from a desire to help prevent interethnic conflict in Eurasia through monitoring missions and promoting human rights, free media, and fair elections. It contributes to arms control through the Vienna Document, which allows participating states to observe and notify each other about their military exercises and other relevant activities.

Russia and its war on Ukraine are disrupting the work of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the leading forum for addressing security concerns in that region. 

U.S. Said Mulling Cluster Munitions Request

January/February 2023
By Gabriela Rosa Hernández

Ukraine has pushed the United States to provide its armed forces with cluster munitions warheads, and the Biden administration has not rejected the request, according to CNN, even though the weapon is banned by more than 110 countries.

Part of a cluster bomb is seen in the village of Shevchenkove, Ukraine, after attacks by Ukrainian and Russian forces in October. (Photo by Alex Chan Tsz Yuk/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)Cluster munitions are gravity bombs, artillery shells, and rockets that fragment into small bomblets or grenades. They are controversial and widely shunned because they can inflict devastating harm on civilians.

Russian forces have used these weapons in attacks throughout Ukraine, resulting in numerous civilian casualties. Ukraine allegedly also has used them in its attempt to defend against Russia’s brutal assault, although far less than Russia. (See ACT, October 2022.)

CNN reported on Dec. 8 that senior Biden administration officials have been fielding Ukrainian requests for cluster munitions for months and “have not rejected [them] outright.”

Asked about the status of Ukraine’s request, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Arms Control Today by email on Dec. 19 that “[w]e are not in a position to comment on internal deliberations regarding specific systems requested by Ukraine.”

The spokesperson reiterated the Biden administration’s commitment that, “as a general matter, we will continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance for as long as it takes and will continue to work with Allies and partners to identify and provide Ukraine with additional capabilities.”

“As Russia’s war against Ukraine has evolved, so too has U.S. military assistance, and we will continue to calibrate our assistance to align with Ukraine’s current and future battlefield needs,” the spokesperson said.

On Dec. 21, President Joe Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the White House as Congress prepared to pass a giant annual spending package that includes an additional $44 billion
for Ukraine.

CNN said the administration has not taken the cluster munitions request off the table as a last resort in case Ukrainian munitions stockpiles run dangerously low. Russian forces are bolstering their defenses as the war enters a second year, and U.S. officials believe the conflict could enter a stalemate, The New York Times reported on Dec. 21.

“Providing banned cluster munitions to Ukraine or any other country is a flagrant rejection of the Convention on Cluster Munitions [CCM] and a blatant disregard for civilian lives.

Such a move risks exacerbating the existing humanitarian disaster in the country,” Hector Guerra, director of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines - Cluster Munition Coalition, said in a statement Dec. 19.

He called on states-parties to the CCM, which bans the weapons, to “react urgently to the prospect of further civilian harm from cluster munitions in the Ukraine conflict.”

“Any support for the country should be contingent upon unconditional respect for international humanitarian law and repudiation of any use of indiscriminate weapons,” he said.

According to CNN, Ukrainian officials have lobbied for dual-purpose improved conventional munitions compatible with the U.S.-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket System and the 155mm howitzer. Ukrainian officials say the munitions would increase the capacity of the Ukrainian military by enabling more effective attacks on larger concentrations of Russian forces and equipment. The Ukrainians also claim that they would not use them in civilian populated areas as Russia has.

Asked by Arms Control Today to comment on Russia’s use of cluster munitions in Ukraine and the strategic considerations behind Ukraine’s request for cluster munitions, a spokesperson at the Ukrainian embassy in Washington said in a Dec. 13 email that “Russia’s use of these weapons is a part of their tactic aimed to threaten people, make them flee, capture the land, [and] force Ukraine to negotiations through terror. It’s the same tactic as the airstrikes on our energy infrastructure and leaving people to freeze to death in winter.”

Granting Ukraine access to cluster munitions would require the Biden administration to override a U.S. law that generally restricts the transfer of cluster munitions that result in more than a 1 percent rate of unexploded ordnance.

As stockpiles of U.S. munitions dwindle, Kyiv has told Washington that it could use U.S. cluster munitions sitting in storage, CNN reported.

Some cluster munitions disperse only two bomblets while others can spread up to hundreds of submunitions over a large area. These weapons are designed for use against massed formations of troops and armor or broad targets, such as airfields. But cluster submunitions sometimes fail to explode on impact and can kill or maim civilians who later encounter them. These unexploded submunitions may remain dangerous for decades.

In Ukraine, Russia’s short-range BM-21 Grad launchers are capable of firing cluster munitions warheads, although they usually carry unitary warheads. Longer-range systems such as the Smerch multiple rocket launcher, the Tochka, and Iskander ballistic missiles can also fire a cluster munitions warhead. Ukraine inherited some of these systems and a stock of cluster munitions including the Tochka and Smerch multiple rocket launchers, according to The Economist.

The 110 states that ratified the CCM include former cluster munitions producers France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Russia, Ukraine, and the United States have not signed the treaty.

The Biden administration has not rejected Ukraine’s request for U.S. cluster munitions to defend against Russian forces, according to CNN.


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