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Outside View: CFE battles -- Part 1

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Nikita Petrov
Moscow (UPI) May 29, 2008
General of the Army Yury Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, has returned from Brussels, where he took part in the annual summit of the Russia-NATO Council that was held earlier this month. At the summit, Baluyevsky proposed to his colleagues a way out of the deadlock over the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

Russia suspended the CFE in Europe last December, saying that it would do so until its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners resume the ratification of the updated version of the treaty, which reflects post-Cold War realities -- the Warsaw Pact, once a CFE signatory, does not exist anymore. Instead, there are NATO members and non-NATO members, such as Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan, which have ratified the treaty.

No NATO country has done so, while the three Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have not even joined it. Moscow believes that this situation gives the entire alliance unilateral military advantages, which it cannot accept.

Since Russia shelved the CFE, NATO has somewhat modified its position. Before, it agreed to start its ratification only after Russia met its Istanbul commitments, that is, fully withdrew its troops from Georgia and Moldova. Now NATO suggests a parallel process: It will launch the mechanism of ratification, while Moscow will embark on complete and final withdrawal of its troops from the two former Soviet republics.

The Kremlin and the Russian General Staff consider these demands excessive and unacceptable. Moreover, they state with good reason that the CFE and troop withdrawal -- which has been fully completed in Georgia -- are completely different documents. Drawing an artificial connection between them is no excuse for delaying the treaty's ratification since 1999.

The West's refusal to ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe has compelled Russia to suspend it. For half a year, Russia has not supplied NATO with information on the deployment of its forces in the CFE-covered European part of Russia west of the Ural Mountains.

Russia has also kept mum on its strength and modernization, and does not allow NATO inspectors to visit its troops. At the same time, it does not expect to monitor NATO's potential. This situation does not promote trust between Moscow and Brussels, despite regular Russia-NATO Council summits.

How to break the CFE deadlock
The idea voiced by General of the Army Yury Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, at this year's annual meeting of the Russia-NATO Council is aimed at breaking the current deadlock over the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

Baluyevsky suggested that Russia should be allowed to lift restrictions on arms on its flanks -- in the north and south of its European part. This would allow it to freely move armed forces and hardware in this territory, and to react promptly to emerging situations. Russia would not increase the strength of its troops under this proposal.

Military experts understand what stands behind this proposal. Non-ratification of the CFE has given the North Atlantic Treaty Organization a serious military advantage over Russia's European combat capability.

The Russian Defense Ministry maintains that NATO is four to six times ahead of Russia in tanks and armored vehicles. Moreover, Georgia has also substantially increased its military potential, having received from its Western partners 175 tanks, 126 armored vehicles, 67 artillery pieces, four military aircraft, 12 helicopters and eight warships and motor boats, to name but a few.

The Russian Defense Ministry stated that although these numbers do not exceed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe-imposed ceilings, provocations staged by the Georgian military on the borders with the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are "exerting a destabilizing influence on the military-political situation in the South Caucasus."

Russia's military leaders are also concerned over the presence of reinforced U.S. troops in bases in Romania and Bulgaria, and the Pentagon's plans to deploy anti-ballistic missile elements in Poland and the Czech Republic -- and eventually in Turkey, Georgia, Norway and Britain -- under the excuse of protecting its European allies from Iranian ballistic missiles.

Moscow believes that these plans will sharply reduce the counterforce potential of Russia's strategic deterrent. In this situation, it is not surprising that Russia does not want to take part in the unratified CFE. As former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said, "We are not going to give NATO unilateral military advantages."

Baluyevsky's proposal was not supported by his foreign colleagues. A NATO spokesman reiterated the old position that the process of ratifying CFE would start in parallel with Russia's troop withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia.

Obviously, NATO's military chiefs cannot make any new decisions unless the political leaders of NATO, primarily the United States, make new proposals. Baluyevsky was not disappointed with their negative response to his proposal, telling the media: "I have not yet finalized my idea of expanding flanks -- this is just what I'm thinking about. But it may become a foundation for future discussion, and help those who consider it a personal defeat to save face."

But the suspension of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe is a defeat for all participants in the treaty, none of whom wants to give in first.

(Nikita Petrov writes on military affairs for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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