Russia freezes key agreement on arms control in Europe

Russia has suspended the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty – the move, which the country has been threatening to make since April 2007. This raised great concerns in NATO.

President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree, which suspends Russia's participation in the CFE treaty 'in 150 days as of the date of Russia's notifying other member states of its decision'.

Commenting on the President’s decree, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Kislyak emphasised that it was a justified decision: 

“The decision of the President is logical and justified, taking into account the current situation around the CFE treaty,” he said and then continued: “The agreement in its present form has outlived itself. It was signed in 1990 and it regulated relations between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries. The USSR and the Warsaw Pact no longer exist. Meanwhile, NATO continues to expand, exceeding the borders foreseen by the treaty, let alone the fact that some of the NATO countries are not restricted by any obligations at all.”

NATO says they are not surprised by the move.

“I don’t think this comes as a big surprise. President Putin has been very clear, and there were so many other officials saying this was possible and that Russia wasn’t happy with the situation surrounding the CFE treaty. But it’s still a disappointment. We think this is a step in the wrong direction for Russia and also for the rest of Europe. The allies consider the CFE treaty to be a very important one, a cornerstone of European security that could be ratified and should be ratified as soon as possible,” stated NATO spokesman James Appathurai.

The reactions to Russia's decision are coming from across the world. Various countries have their concern at Moscow's move.

“We will continue dialogue with Russia in the upcoming months to try to find mutally suitable solutions to guarantee security in Europe. The decision hasn't come as a surprise because Russian President Vladimir Putin had raised the issue before on several occasions,” said Gordon Johndroe, U.S. Security Council Spokesman.

“The CFE is one of the foundations of the situation which was created after the cold war and we of course would like to keep this treaty. Of course with some amendments, with modification that was discussed some years ago. We wouldn’t like Russia to pull out of this treaty,” suggested Witold Waszczykowski, Deputy Foreign Minister of Poland.

“The responsibility lies with the United States. The current American authorities are refusing to acknowledge that the world already has several power centres,” believes Giulietto Chiesa, member of European Parliament.

Dmitry Trenin, Deputy Director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, believes President Putin had to make this decision sooner or later. 

“Russia called for talks in mid-June but they were non-productive. So, in order to remain credible, as far as one’s threats are concerned, President Putin made the decision he announced today,” the expert said.

Vadim Kozyulin, an expert from the Conventional Arms Center, thinks more understanding can soften relations between Russia and the West.

“We cannot say that Russia and the West have hostile relations. They are still partners, they are still co-operating in many spheres. But today’s event proves that both sides have defined their positions and don’t want to change their stance. What is needed now is more understanding between each other,” he noted.

Aleksandr Sharavin, director of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis, believes the move is an invitation for the West for dialogue rather then a move towards new arms race.

“I really hope that this move is not taken as a step towards a confrontation. I hope the answer will not be in that direction. A long time has passed since 1999, and political and military situation has changed since then. So the treaty needs further adaptation,” he said.

When the Iron Curtain fell, the heads of states of the two biggest armed blocs – NATO and the Warsaw Pact – agreed to reduce arms.

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (or CFE Treaty) was signed in Paris in November 1990 and came into force two years later.

Originally, there were 22 participating countries.

Soon, the Soviet Union fell apart, the Warsaw Pact broke down, and NATO started its expansion eastward. That brought the number of the member states up to thirty.

The treaty became a landmark deal regulating the movement of non-nuclear weapons from the Atlantic to the Urals.

It limits the number of armored vehicles, tanks, military aircraft, and artillery, which each national army could have.   

The treaty was updated in Istanbul nine years later after the formerly Soviet-oriented countries in Central Europe joined NATO.

Russia has ratified the document, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

While NATO also signed on the line, its constituent countries have not yet ratified the deal. They have been waiting for Russia to abide by the Istanbul provisions which require the removal of its troops from the breakaway republics of Georgia and Moldova.

Moscow insisted that the issues are unrelated, since these bases are for international peace-keepers mandated by the U.N.

In accordance with the agreement, Russia has moved its heavy arms from the European part of Russia, destroying one fifth of its arsenal, while NATO has not limited the number of troops in Europe.

In April, President Putin declared his intention to put a freeze on Russia’s compliance with the CFE treaty – a move that raised concerns in NATO.

The new twist in relations came amid Russia’s increasing alarm over a planned U.S. missile defence shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.  

Washington says the shield is meant to minimize the threat of possible missile attacks from Iran or North Korea.

That has not convinced Moscow, which has taken a stick-and-carrot approach to the issue. On the one hand it has threatened to re-target its missiles at Europe, while it has also proposed the joint use of the Gabala radar in Azerbaijan, and another installation currently being built in the south of Russia.

The U.S. has promised to consider the offer, but is thought unlikely to abandon its plans for bases in Central Europe.