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Russia: Moscow 'Unhappy' With Outcome Of CFE Conference

By Jean-Christophe Peuch

VIENNA, June 15, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- An extraordinary conference of the 30 state parties to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty ended today in Vienna with participants failing to agree on a final joint statement.

The four-day emergency meeting was requested by Russia, which cited "exceptional circumstances" stemming from NATO enlargement and what it described as the alliance's "foot-dragging" on ratification of an adapted version of the treaty that was signed in 1999.

Addressing reporters at the close of the closed-door Vienna meeting, Russian delegates said they were "unhappy" with its outcome.

"We were hoping our partners would hold more constructive views," said Russia's chief negotiator Anatoly Antonov.

"It was clear that the position of Russia and the West would clash even before the Vienna forum began," Russia's "Kommersant" daily commented on June 14, two days into the conference that followed unsuccessful consultations within the framework of the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council earlier this year.

Freeze Threat

The emergency talks took place a few weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened that Russia would freeze its commitments under the landmark Cold War-era disarmament treaty unless NATO countries hasten the ratification of its adapted version.

In his state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on April 26, Putin complained that Russia is one of the very few countries -- with Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine -- that have formally approved the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty to date. He accused NATO members of dragging their feet with its ratification with a view to gaining "unilateral" strategic advantages over Moscow.

He added that unless the alliance "begins effectively contributing to the arms reduction process in Europe," Russia would no longer feel any obligations with regard to the CFE Treaty.

The United States and other NATO countries have said that they will not ratify the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty until Moscow withdraws all its troops, military equipment, and ammunition stockpiles from Georgia and Moldova's Russian-speaking separatist region of Trandsniester.

Under commitments made in 1999 in Istanbul, Russia agreed to vacate its military facilities from those two countries within specific deadlines that were renegotiated after it missed them.

Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Eurasian and European affairs who led the U.S. delegation at the start of the Vienna talks, acknowledged Moscow's "considerable progress" in pulling its troops from Georgia. But he deplored the continued presence of Russian military forces in Transdniester.

Another problem is posed by Russia's refusal to let international observers inspect the Abkhaz-based military facility it officially vacated in 2001.

Moscow claims it has met all its obligations toward Georgia and Moldova under the CFE Treaty and that all pending issues should be discussed within the framework of bilateral talks. In particular, it says troops stationed in Transdniester are peacekeeping forces that are not covered by the CFE Treaty regime.

Proposed Bases

Another bone of contention are U.S. plans to set up military bases in Bulgaria and Romania -- two former Soviet allies that joined NATO in 2004.

Moscow believes the bases may serve for the additional permanent stationing of "substantial combat forces" in Central Europe, something it says is banned under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. The United States has said that those facilities will be joint training grounds where there will be only few, or no permanently stationed U.S. forces at all.

Finally -- and more importantly -- Russia complains of what it says are the "humiliating and discriminatory" dispositions of the adapted CFE Treaty that allegedly forbid it to freely move troops and military equipment on its territory.

At stake are the so-called flanking arrangements that were agreed upon in 1999 to prevent countries from concentrating all their treaty-limited equipment in one single area.

Addressing reporters the day before the Vienna conference opened, Russian delegation head Antonov said Moscow's objective was to have the adapted CFE Treaty ratified by all its signatories so that new negotiations on the flank limitations could start as soon as possible.

In other words, he said Moscow was seeking "an adaptation of the adapted CFE Treaty."

Russian Proposals

In the course of the conference, Antonov and his team circulated a package of six proposals that should have served as a basis for a final joint statement.

The proposals include the abolition of the flank arrangements for Russia; the entering into force of the adapted CFE treaty no later than July 1, 2008; and the lowering of treaty limits for NATO "to compensate for the military potential acquired by the alliance as a result of its two waves of enlargement."

Russia is also demanding that the CFE regime be extended to NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- which were still under Soviet occupation in 1990.

Finally, it is suggesting that state parties agree on a definition of what constitutes "substantial combat forces" and on the conditions under which new countries could join the CFE Treaty.

In Antonov's words, this plan reflects the geopolitical changes that have taken place in Europe since the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and should be seen as "a kind of roadmap that is necessary to revive the practicability of the CFE Treaty."

Fried and other U.S. diplomats in turn say many Russian concerns -- including those related to the possible deployment of allied forces in the Baltic region -- could be resolved once the adapted CFE Treaty comes into force. That means when Moscow fully meets the Istanbul commitments. They also say Washington recently proposed that an international peacekeeping force that would include Russian troops be deployed in Trandsniester.

NATO Concerns

But they also make it clear that NATO allies will not compromise on issues that could endanger the CFE Treaty, which they describe as "a cornerstone of European security" that helped decommission some 60,000 tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters since it came into force 15 years ago. They also say alliance members are committed to preserving the existing flank agreements.

The ball is now in Putin's court.

Antonov said his delegation would report on the outcome of the conference to the Russian president, "who will in turn make the appropriate decisions."

At the same time, he said he did not see the failure of the conference as "the end of the story" and insisted that Moscow is ready to continue dialogue with NATO.

Speaking to reporters before leaving Vienna, Fried on June 12 said nothing in the Russians' approach precluded the possibility of "working together."

Yet, he added: "That doesn't mean it will happen."

"Kommersant" believes the proposals made by Russia amount to an "ultimatum." "Either the West accepts them, or Moscow will first stop implementing the CFE Treaty and then will withdraw from it," the daily wrote on June 14.

Russian delegates at the Vienna talks have said in case Russia would declare a moratorium it would not proceed to any military buildup that would contravene the CFE Treaty, but would simply stop communicating any information to NATO and suspend its participation to the inspection process.

There is one problem, however.

As Fried reminded this week, the CFE Treaty contains no provision for suspension.

And according to a recent NATO fact sheet, any decision to unilaterally declare a moratorium "would constitute a direct violation of the treaty."

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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