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Russia Suspends Participation In CFE Treaty

Russia has suspended its participation in a key arms-control pact, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE). The suspension took effect at midnight Moscow time on December 11.

The statement announcing the suspension on the website of the Russian Foreign Ministry was terse. "The treaty, signed at the time of the Cold War, has ceased to respond to modern European realities and to meet our security interests," it said in part.

It said that "furthermore, [NATO member states] have taken a number of steps that are incompatible with the spirit and the letter of the treaty."

Those statements only slightly rephrased Putin's own words on April 26, when he warned in his annual address to the nation that Moscow might take this step.

"It is time our partners made their own contribution to the reduction of armaments, by deeds, not words," Putin said. "Instead, they keep building up their armaments. It's time for them to contribute to armament reduction at least in Europe. I propose discussing this issue at the NATO-Russia Council, and if no progress is achieved in negotiations, I propose to consider discontinuing our obligations" under the CFE.

Putin subsequently decreed on July 14 that Moscow would suspend its participation in the treaty after a 150-day waiting period.

Security On Europe's 'Flanks'

The CFE Treaty, signed in 1990 by NATO and the then-Warsaw Pact, took 10 years to negotiate and is still considered the keystone of European security. It set limits on each bloc's deployment of weaponry between the Atlantic Ocean and the Urals and provided for regular mutual inspections.

But the accord has been in trouble ever since it was redrafted following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Negotiated in Istanbul in 1999 and dubbed CFE II, the new version has become a symbol of the troubled post-Cold War relation between the two sides.

Russia and three other states -- Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus -- ratified the new accord. But NATO members said they would refuse to do so until Moscow complied with commitments it made in Istanbul to remove troops and equipment from Moldova and Georgia.

Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta," says the Istanbul commitments remain at the heart of the quarrel.

"The main sticking point now is Moldova, where Russia is adamantly refusing to withdraw its troops from the Transdniester region," Felgenhauer says. "And President Putin and other Russian officials have said that they do not recognize the right of the West to impose on Russia such limitations and basically do not want to withdraw their troops, and Moscow said they have a right to keep them there."

Speaking to RFE/RL in July, he said Moscow also would like to fully abandon limitations on weapons in so-called flank areas like the Caucasus.

It is on the "flanks" of the onetime NATO-Warsaw Pact front line in Europe that Moscow and the West today frequently find themselves in dispute. Moscow wants to maintain a strong influence over its post-Soviet neighborhood and Western policy rejects such a role.

Agreeing To Disagree

Washington is calling Moscow's decision to now suspend its participation in the CFE wrongheaded. Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said on December 11 that the move is "regrettable."

He added, "it doesn't favor anyone's security interests and it's particularly unfortunate given the international and American efforts to address Russian concerns."

NATO issued a statement saying the allies deeply regret that Russia has proceeded with its intention to unilaterally “suspend” implementation of CFE Treaty obligations. Europe's main human rights and security watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, urged Russia to reconsider its freeze of a key Cold War arms treaty, saying the suspension could have an impact on European security.

It remains unclear where the confrontation goes from here, but diplomatic efforts are likely.

After the Federation Council, Russia's upper house of parliament, unanimously approved on November 16 Putin's decree, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "We expect a reaction that would allow putting arms controls in Europe in order. This can be done only by adopting an agreement on adjusting the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and, in general, by modernizing what is a hopelessly outdated [arms control] regime."

Amid the dispute, both sides are stressing that it does not present any immediate threats to European security. Rather, analysts say, the quarrel underlines the increasing political estrangement between the West and the Kremlin, while leaving the military situation on the ground as it is.

Rose Gottemoeller, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and a former deputy undersecretary for defense nuclear proliferation in the U.S. Department of Energy, speaking to RFE/RL at the start of the new crisis in April, said there is little likelihood either side will jeopardize the current security balance.

"I think we have to remember that the whole relationship between Russia and NATO has been recast in these past 15 years," Gottemoeller said. "We haven't made as much progress as, certainly, I would have hoped. But nevertheless, we are far away from the circumstances of the Cold War."

Still, NATO's and Russia's political estrangement was much on display at their most recent meeting in Brussels on December 7.

RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent says the two sides expressed disagreements over nearly all major global issues, from the future of Kosovo to U.S. missile-defense plans in Eastern Europe. The only point of convergence between NATO and Russia, he says, was Afghanistan, where both sides agree the fight against international terrorism and drugs remains the key priority.

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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