Germany urges revival of major European arms treaty

On a formal visit to Moscow, Germany’s Foreign Minister has called for reviving the European arms treaty and proposed including the issue of tactical nuclear weapons owned by Russia and Europe in the disarmament process.

The German Foreign Minister and Federal Vice-Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in the Russian capital to discuss a number of issues with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. On top of the issue of the European arms treaty, Steinmeier also suggested reviving the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. The meetings are meant to pave the way for Angela Merkel's visit in July.

“Has the time not yet come to include sub-strategic and tactical nuclear arms in this disarmament process in order to finally dispose of the remnants of the Cold War kept in the territory of Russia and Europe?” Steinmeier said in his lecture in Moscow on Wednesday.

Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty

The CFE treaty, signed in 1990, limited the number of tanks, aircraft and other military hardware that can be deployed in Europe and also established a military balance between NATO and the former Warsaw Pact countries.

Nine years later it was amended to adapt to post-Cold War realities. Of 30 signatories to the treaty only Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus ratified the new version. The other countries said they would only do so if Russia withdrew its troops from Georgia and Moldova. However, Moscow reiterated that only Russian peacekeepers were in these regions. The dispute led Russia in July 2007 to suspend it participation in the agreement.

The decision was also a response to the Bush administration’s plans of deploying anti-missile defense elements in Eastern Europe.

He also praised the efforts of Russia and the US on the reduction of strategic arms and urged Moscow to accept the “outstretched hand” of US President Barack Obama.

“Presidents Obama and Medvedev have agreed on a new deal to reduce the countries' strategic arms. The old treaty is about to expire in December this year. This is a crucial step on our path to a nuclear-free world and I believe it is not a utopia,” Steinmeier said.

“With the coming of President Obama, we now have hope for a renewed relationship between the United States, the EU and Russia. The ghost of a potential new Cold War has been expelled. Obama is obviously determined to bring common interests, not contradictions, into the foreground of relations with Russia,” he added.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said he can easily see a future for the world without nuclear weapons.

He was speaking at a meeting with Steinmeier after the official opening ceremony for a newly-built children's hospital.

“Why do we need nuclear weapons? Was it Russia who invented them? Have we ever used them? If those who have used them are ready to say no, along with other states possessing nuclear bombs whether official or not – that’s my hope. Of course we will do our best to encourage and comply with that process,” Putin said.

From military to energy security

The energy security issue has been shadowing Russia-EU relations for the last couple of years. The disruption of gas supplies to Europe because of the Russia-Ukraine dispute is one of the reasons the EU is keen on diversifying its energy supplies and breaking with its dependence on energy supplies from Russia.

President Dmitry Medvedev recently came up with the idea of changing Europe’s energy security architecture.

He notably suggested creating a common legal framework for international energy cooperation. Different domestic regulations on the countries involved often create obstacles for the construction of pipelines and the carrying out of other projects.

“I hope our European partners, especially partners so close to us as Germany, will be interested in discussing the document we have proposed and our approach, since Europe’s future and the solution of the economic problems which are driving all of us into a difficult position, depend on that,” Medvedev said on Wednesday.

In response to the remark Germany’s Foreign Minister said Europe should offer a positive reaction to Russian initiatives dealing with energy security.

“I view President Medvedev's proposals as constructive. I am speaking about a proposed new system of energy supplies,” Steinmeier said.

“We should work to resolve the issue of energy security more rapidly in order to prevent it from causing a split among us,” the German official said.