Russia could opt out of CFE Treaty

Russia's President in an Annual Address to the Federal Assembly presented his view for the future of the country. In an unexpected move, he spoke of Russia's possible moratorium on the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.

The Russian President broke his tradition not to speak on the country’s foreign policy in his addresses to the Federal Assembly and touched upon the complicated issue of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty.

The original 1990 treaty limits the amount of tanks, artillery and planes that can be owned by European countries. It was adopted in 1999 but will only come into force once it is ratified by all 30 signatories. 

NATO countries say they will sign it only when Russia removes its troops from former Soviet republics.

Russia has already ratified the Treaty and reduced its conventional forces, but has not finished removing its troops from Moldova and Georgia.

“As you know, in 1990, the countries of the Warsaw Treaty and NATO signed a Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. If the Warsaw Treaty had continued to exist, this agreement would have made sense. But today this treaty limits us in deploying our conventional armed forces on the territory of our own country. One could hardly imagine that, for example, the U.S. would accept such limitations for their own troops on such a basis,” he mentioned.

“At the same time Russia has not only signed and ratified this treaty, but also observes it in practice. We have significantly reduced the contingent of our armed forces. In the North-West we have not a single headquarters of army or corps scale. Practically all the heavy weapons have been removed from the European Russia. And actually we are the only country which has the so-called flank limitations in the North and in the South. Even as the situation in Chechnya grew worse, Russia carried out its obligations, co-ordinated its actions with its partners,” the Russian leader continued.

“What about our partners then? They did not even ratify the adapted version of the treaty. And they referred to the Istanbul commitments that provide for withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Transdniester. But firstly, our country has been diligently working on these difficult tasks. And what is more important is that the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty is in no way legally connected to the Istanbul commitments,” Mr Putin stressed.

“It gives us full grounds to declare that in this case our partners are, to say the least, behaving incorrectly seeking unilateral benefits. Refusing to ratify the treaty under a false pretext, they exploit the current situation to build up a system of military bases near our borders. Moreover, they are planning to set up elements of the anti-missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland. And the new NATO members, like Slovakia and the  Baltic republics violated our preliminary agreements and never joined the CFE Treaty. This creates a real threat to our country,” the Russian President continued.

“Therefore, I believe it sensible to declare a moratorium on Russia’s observation of this treaty until all the NATO- member countries without exception ratify this treaty and start observing it strictly, the way Russia does – unilaterally in fact. It is time for our partners, not with words but with deeds to contribute to the reduction of arms, at least – in Europe. They’ve been increasing them so far. I suggest discussing this issue in the Russia-NATO Council, and if there is no progress in this, to discontinue our obligations under the CFE Treaty,” the President of Russia stated.

“Why should Russia be one-sidedly fulfilling its commitments while other countries, under various pre-texts, avoid these commitments?” Sergey Ivanov, Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister, questioned.

Meanwhile, NATO officials hope President Putin's proposal on Russia's possible moratorium on the CFE treaty is not final. They have gathered in Oslo for a regular Foreign Minister's meeting and will be joined by Russia's Sergey Lavrov.

The Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, wasn’t fully in touch with what exactly President Putin had said, but he has taken the issue seriously. He believes that NATO is still very much keen to ratify this treaty.

“In the sphere of the NATO-Russia Council, where we do not of course discuss only subjects on which we agree, this is the subject, which, without any doubt will be discussed. I expect Mr Sergey Lavrov later this afternoon to explain the words of his president. So, CFE, without any doubt, will be on the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council as well. But I end where I started: NATO allies attach great importance to the adapted Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty and its ratification,” the Secretary General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, commented.

RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle thinks that Russia's possible moratorium on the CFE Treaty was not something totally unpredictable considering the current state of Russia-NATO relations.

“It is a big piece of news. But let’s put it into perspective. NATO has expanded since that treaty was signed; new NATO members have not signed this treaty. It’s not like it came out of the blue – it has been on the table before. And now the Russian side takes the next step. It makes perfect logical sense, especially since there is no meaning for dialogue between Russia and the United States when it comes to America’s deployment of an anti-missile shield in Europe. The story will make a lot of headlines,” the commentator said.

Referring to the coming parliamentary elections the Russian president said new regulations will be introduced to allow the opposition better representation and promote fairer voting.

“The most important issue of the year are the State Duma elections. They are to evaluate support by the people for the future course of the country. The elections will be held for the first time according to the proportional system, with only the political parties taking part, and the list of candidates will be divided into regional groups. Thus, the citizens will know for certain who competes for the right to represent their interests. The proportional system will give additional chances to the opposition to expand its representation in the legislative assembly of power. The cancellation of the  minimum turnout requirement is to increase voter activity.The new system will enhance political competition and generally improve the political system in the country,” Putin said.

RT political commentator Peter Lavelle thinks that “this is a next page in Russia’s democracy, We’ve even heard that even the Speaker of the Duma will be elected by the winning party much like in the Western European parliamentary systems. We see something evolving, changing. They’re going to make mistakes, to learn from their mistakes. This is Russia’s interpretation, but it’s the best way for their democracy.”

The Russian leader called for tougher measures to fight extremism in the country.

According to Putin, “not everybody wants our country to develop in a stable and consistent manner. There are those who, skillfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return to the recent past – some to loot the country's national riches, to rob the people and the state; others to strip us of economic and political independence. There is a great inflow of money from outside interfering with our domestic affairs. Even if you look back to colonial times, there was also talk then of a supposed civilizing influence of the colonizers. Democratic slogans are being used now, but the purpose is still the same – pure self-interest. Some of these forces are not afraid to use illegitimate techniques to fire up  interethnic and interregional religious tension. I would like to call upon you to speed up legislation to increase accountability before the law for extremist activities.”

He stressed the importance of cooperation between the authorities and non-governmental organisations. More resources will be allocated in the future to help these groups and volunteer movements in their work.

“It's hard to imagine democracy without NGOs, their opinions and stances. The Public Chamber helps to enhance constructive dialogue in this field. This body also works to fight xenophobia, abuses in the armed forces and promotes human rights. Government support for NGOs amounted to 500 million roubles last year and rose 2.5 times this year. We can see the number of NGOs and its volunteers performing socially important work growing to 8 million people. It demonstrates the formation of an active civic society in Russia,” Putin underscored.

President Putin also proposed channeling the profits from improved tax administration and the sale of Yukos assets to help solve housing issues in the country.

“The budget is a question of priorities at the regional and state levels. First of all, I have some specific proposal for lower taxation. As well as revenue from the sale of  Yukos shares to cover its debt to the state. I consider that in order to improve the effectiveness of the local utilities systems, we need at least 250 BLN rubles,” he noted.

The President stressed the importance of cultural integrity for an independent state.

“The long economic crisis that we saw in Russia had an impact on Russian intellectuals, on the state of our arts and literature. These problems led to virtual disappearance of many of our spiritual and moral traditions. At the same time, a nation lacking a cultural reference of its own and blindly following foreign clichés, loses its identity. ‘National sovereignty is determined by cultural criteria among other things,” – these were the words of Dmitry Likhachev. “But cultural and spiritual uniqueness does not interfere with building a country open to the world,” he said.

The Russian Clergy was particularly happy to hear about the revival of traditional values. Kirill, Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, said, “our society needs basic spiritual values, family values without which we cannot count on consolidation in our society, and on the successful development of the country.”

President Putin commented on the unexpected tone of his speech, which focused mainly on the future plans and paid less attention to summing up the results of his presidency.

“In the spring of 2008 my presidential term comes to an end, and the next address to the Federal Assembly will be made by the next head of state. In connection with this, many of our colleagues were expecting that today’s address would be devoted mainly to the results of our common work from year the 2000, and to assessing these results. They were prepared to hear some philosophical recommendations for the future. I think you and I are in no position to give ourselves an evaluation, and as of now, it’s premature to give some ‘political testament.’

RT’s political commentator Peter Lavelle suggests it was a message to Mr Putin’s future successor.

”He was speaking much more on the things that must be addressed. Of course it makes a lot of sense with his words that he is not going to give the next address. It was a kind of reminder to his successor: ‘don’t forget this agenda,’ he believes.