Russia Suspends Role in CFE

Putin signed a decree today officially suspending Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty and threatens to fully withdraw in five months time unless a compromise was found on some of its provisions. The CFE, which was signed in 1990 and amended in 1999, limits troop deployments on the European continent. The 1999 revisions require the Russians to fully withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia. Russia is in the process of withdrawing troops from the latter but has refused to consider the former because of the dispute over Transnistria. NATO has used Russian troops stationed in the two former Soviet Republics as reason to not sign the amended treaty.

According to the decree, Russia considers linking of the signing of the treaty with Russian bilateral talks with Georgia and Moldova as “wrong” and the need to suspend participation in the treaty stems from several “exceptional circumstances.” These include:

  • The failure of Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to make the necessary changes in the composition of group of states party to the Treaty on the accession of these countries to NATO;
  • The excessive parties to the CFE Treaty that belong to NATO, and the exclusive group that formed among CFE Treaty members as a result of the widening of the alliance;
  • The negative impact of the planned deployment of America’s conventional forces in Bulgaria and Romania because of this exclusive group mentality;
  • The failure of a number of parties of the CFE Treaty to comply with the political obligations contained in the Istanbul Agreements relating to the early ratification of the Adapted Treaty;
  • The failure of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to comply with commitments accepted in Istanbul to adjust their territorial ceilings;
  • Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s failure to participate in the CFE Treaty has adverse effects on Russia’s ability to implement its political commitments to military containment in the northwestern part of the Russian Federation. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s actions result in a territory in which there are no restrictions on the deployment of conventional forces, including other countries’ forces.

The decree goes on to state that Russia’s suspension is in accordance with international and federal law. Pavel Felgenhauer told CNN that Russia’s move was illegal since “This is basically non-compliance, and this is an illegal move.” This is despite the fact that a few days ago he wrote: “Any state may, exercising its national sovereignty, withdraw from CFE, but only after giving a notice 150 days prior to the intended withdrawal. The notice must “include a statement of the extraordinary events” that have caused the withdrawal.” Russia has stated both in its announcement.

Russia’s move places a moratorium on European efforts to inspect Russian military sites and removes limits on conventional forces.

Russia’s announcement has, of course, elicited disappointment. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said, “NATO considers this treaty to be an important cornerstone of European security,” adding that Russia suspension was “a disappointing step in the wrong direction.” Witold Waszczykowski, Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister, told RIA Novosti that “Poland is astonished by the Kremlin decision” but stated that his country was open to negotiations on the issue.

There is also no doubt that talk about a “New Cold War” will get another gasp of life even though there seems to be an early consensus that Russia’s move is mostly symbolic. “Stability” between European countries is hardly at risk. The bigger risks to stability are increasing tensions over immigration, Islam, and European integration show within European countries, not between them. Plus Russia’s influence over Europe does not reside in its hard power, but in its economic soft power. The real area of global insecurity stretches across the Central Asia and the Middle East.

So while some will be quick to lambaste Russia over this, there is nothing to suggest that the move is anything more than diplomatic posturing. Whether this move actually pays off remains to be seen.