THE CFE TREATY MORATORIUM AND ITS IMPACT ON THE CAUCASUSâ€™ FROZEN CONFLICTS
On July 14, 2007, Russia formally suspended its participation in the CFE treaty although the treaty includes no legal basis for such an action.Â Few commentaries foresee a remilitarization in Europe or fundamentally negative change to the current security status quo.Â However, regarding the â€˜frozen conflictsâ€™ in Moldova and Georgia, this suspension has great potential significance.Â Russia suspended its compliance in order to be free to do what it wants with regard to its own military forces and avoid Western inspections of them, especially in the conflicts zones.Â Russiaâ€™s clearly stated objectives are incompatible with any true security for the region or beyond it for Europe.
BACKGROUND: Russia suspended its participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty to protest the failure of the West to ratify it â€“ a failure due to Russiaâ€™s refusal to fully withdraw its forces form Moldova and Georgia. Other reasons cited are NATO enlargement and the American plan for missile defenses in Central Europe.Â At the Vienna conference in mid-June called to respond to Russiaâ€™s complaints about the treaty, Russia unsuccessfully sought to pressure the West into â€œmodernizingâ€ the treaty in its favor, mixing together issues such as the treaty itself, missile defenses in Europe, and the Kosovo precedent as regards breakaway provinces, with the clear intentÂ to make gains on at least one issue.Â Â Its failure ensured the July 14 decision to suspend compliance for 150 days. At Vienna Moscow advanced six points with regard to the treaty.
First, the 1999 adapted treaty must be ratified and brought into force quickly or at least declared to be â€œtemporarilyâ€ valid by June 1, 2008. Second, the Baltic states must sign the ratified treaty or at least the temporarily validated treaty to fall under its restrictions.Â As one commentator noted, Moscow also insists they should â€œreturn to the CFE Treaty which they quit in 1991, implying that as part of the Soviet Union in 1990 they inherited and accepted the treaty at that time, thus they do not have the right as sovereign states not to accept it.â€ Third, new group limits should be negotiated on NATO armaments and hardware to â€œcompensateâ€ Russia for NATOâ€™s acceptance of new members and American installations in Romania and Bulgaria.Â Those countriesâ€™ deployments and/or numerical ceilings should be lowered. Fourth, the CFE treatyâ€™s â€œflank limits on Russian force deployments in the North Caucasus and Russiaâ€™s northwest should be removedâ€ because Russia â€œcannot and will not fulfill the provisons of the obsolete treaty to the detriment of its securityâ€ on this point.Â Since Russia has exceeded the treaty limits in theÂ North Caucasus for years using a treaty escape clause with full Western understanding, this point presumably applies mainly to its northwest flank.Â But it certainly shows that Russia wants a totally free hand in and around the CIS and at home even though all the other signatories have renounced it on this point.Â If no agreement is reached on these and other Russian demands, e.g.Â keeping its forces in the Moldova and the Gudauta base in the Georgian breakaway republic of Abkhazia, Russia threatened to suspend compliance â€“ i.e. exempt itself from the treatyâ€™s inspection regime, information exchanges, and quantitative force challenges â€“ or even withdraw from the treaty.Â It also expected that other signatories would refrain from actions that â€œwould hamper the treatyâ€™s revitalizaitonâ€ during such a suspension even though it arrogates to itself a legal right that does not exist in the treaty text.
IMPLICATIONS: These issues haveÂ considerable importance for both Moldova and the conflicts around Georgia.Â In Moldovaâ€™s case, the Russian military leadership believes that its MoldovanÂ deployments are a factor for stability there and Russia seeks a 20-year lease on a base there. As Kommersant correspondent Boris Volkonsky pointed out, Russiaâ€™s demands forÂ flexibility with regard to its troop limits and movements on the flanks while others are turned down reveals a key point.Â If they are not held down and Russia is, that opens the way to a major shift in the regional balance of power.Â So to avert this shift, Russia must either withdraw from Moldova and Gudauta to get Western ratification, and forsake its previous policies or risk the alternative spelled out by Volkonsky. Specifically,
The CFE Treaty blocks the way to recognition of Abkhazia, South Ossetia or Trnasnistria based on the precedent of Kosovoâ€™s independence.Â Restrictions on flanking countries like Russia prevent it from being able to respond to other states transferring their quota (which is permitted under the treaty) to Georgia or Moldova.Â If they do so, and Russia cannot respond, their hopes of forcibly reincorproating those areas into their territory increase.Â According to Volkonsky, Moscow cannot allow any such reincorpoation, whether it be coercive or negotiated, because that â€œwould undermine confidence in the countryâ€™s leadership at home and put an end to Russiaâ€™s pretensions to rebirth as a great power or even leadership in the former Soviet Unionâ€.Â Given the importance of such goals for Moscow, freezing the status quo or invoking a Kosovo precedent to first declare breakaway provincesâ€™ independence and then amalgamate them to Moscow becomes imperative.Â
It follows from this logic that Moscow will therefore eventually renounce the treaty and is already preparing to do so.Â One day after the Vienna conference began, members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakshtan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) issued a statement to the effect that,Â â€œthe CFE does not meet the interests of stability in Europe, the treatyâ€™s viability and effectiveness have passed and its further existence is subject to question.â€
Russiaâ€™s has further potential dilemmas.Â Since Russian forces are now leaving Georgia except for Gudauta, Georgia can sharply increase its forces up to the CFE treatyâ€™s limits or substitute them with a third powerâ€™s forces, e.g. Americaâ€™s or some other member of NATO.Â This would become a real possibility should Georgia join NATO and become subject to its rules.Â Given the Russian perception of Georgia as a state that is eager to employ provocative and even coercive means to recover its territories, this could, according to some Russian analysts, threaten Russian vital interests since Russia is after all a Caucasian power and the conflicts in the North and South Caucasus are closely related to one another.Â Therefore for Moscow it is critical that NATO and all other non-contiguous third powers (i.e. America) keep out of the Caucasus (a demand that also means binding Georgia and NATO to the CFE treatyâ€™s provisions).
The future of the Russian base at Gudauta, which is nominally in Georgia but actually in territory controlled by the separatist Abkhaz government, also raises difficult issues in conjunction with the CFE treatyâ€™s provisions.Â Moscow claims that only 400 military personnel remain there, half of whom are retirees and dependents.Â It acknowledges the presence of several combat and transport helicopters and some other military vehicles and facilities there, but refuses to allow inspections under the CFE treaty, which Georgia demands. Â Moscow argues that it needs to support â€œpeacekeepingâ€ forces in Abkhazia and the otherÂ â€˜frozen conflictsâ€™.Â And such forcesâ€™ number is not limited by the treaty, which also does not account for â€œunaccounted for treaty limited equipmentâ€ (UTLE) possessed by separatists in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, all or most of which were received from the Russian army and which can be transferred to them in the absence of inspections.Â It does not require much imagination to grasp what these forces could do with increased military equipment. Since the presence of unaccounted for weaponry, which either belongs to or could be transferred to these separatist enclaves, is a major factor for continued instability andÂ potential violence in these conflicts. Moscowâ€™s refusal to allow inspections under the treaty shows that it remains in violation of its provisions even as it demands that the West ratify the treaty unconditionally. Finally, Moscow argued at Vienna, albeit unsuccessfully, that it needs flexibility to deploy forces at Gudauta to deal with terrorist insurgencies in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
CONCLUSIONS: Essentially, Russia now argues that the CFE treaty threatens its ability to dominate the Caucasus and the Black Sea and prevents it from responding to what it expects will be Kosovoâ€™s independence.Â The freedom of action it seeks, aims at a minimum, to freeze these conflicts, obstruct plans for a solution that exclude the possibility of a neo-imperial regime in Moldova and the Caucasus; and at a maximum to allow it to declare independence for these secessionist provinces and revise the post-1991 territorial settlement in its favor.Â Coupled with the likely forthcoming Russian withdrawal from the CFE treaty, such actions would likely be among the first rocks of an avalanche in Europe and Eurasia that could rapidly overturn the post-Cold War status quo.Â Nobody can foresee the scope or point of termination of such an avalanche but it surely is unlikely to end well for the peoples of Moldova, the Caucasus, Europe, or Russia.
AUTHORâ€™S BIO: Professor Stephen Blank, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013. The views expressed here do not represent those of the U.S. Army, Defense Department, or the U.S. government.