Brussels (AFP) Jul 17, 2007
Russia has much to win by suspending, or even freezing, a key Soviet-era treaty limiting troops and arms in Europe and the West has little leverage to stop it, experts said Monday. The freeze, decreed by President Vladimir Putin for "exceptional circumstances" relating to Russia's security and due to take effect on December 12, is a new attempt to undermine US and NATO projects, the experts said.
"The suspension is one of a number of steps that Russia is using to put pressure on the Atlantic alliance," said Etienne de Durand, expert in security issues at the French International Relations Institute (IFRI).
"After years of humiliation, it is taking its revenge," he said.
"If you look at what's happened over the last 15 years from Moscow's point of view, the United States has been trying to systematically dismantle Russia's zone of influence," he explained.
But at the moment, he said, "the Americans are weakened by, and bogged down in, Iraq and are unable to stop Russia from playing a leading role again."
The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty was signed in 1990. It was then modified in 1999 in response to the new European security environment that emerged after the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Russia has ratified the revised version, but NATO countries have refused to follow suit until Moscow withdraws its troops from Georgia and Moldova, which has led to Russian threats to freeze the CFE or drop out altogether.
The issue has been given more prominence on the Russian political scene ahead of general elections scheduled for December 2 and a presidential poll in March next year, with Putin set to leave office.
A US move to extend its missile defence shield into central Europe has also exacerbated tensions, with Moscow angered that its former Cold War foe plans to set up military installations so close.
For Alain De Neve, Belgian author of a report on the CFE treaty, Putin's move came as no surprise.
"The 'suspension' was predictable," he said. "The Russian's have been fighting this bloc-against-bloc logic that was the backdrop for the CFE negotiations."
"It's one of those measures from the end of the Cold War that Russia believes is outdated," he added.
Domestic concerns are also involved.
"Putin is mounting a seduction campaign aimed at the military based on the theme: 'the time when Russia has to satisfy the West is over'," De Neve said.
He also expressed concern about what might happen were Russia to decided to withdraw altogether, given that "no such thing (as suspension) is provided for under the treaty".
"A withdrawal would mean there would no longer be a multilateral text guaranteeing the control and observation of classic military activities in Europe; a treaty based on confidence.
"It's the whole notion of confidence that would evaporate. This is the most worrying aspect," he said, adding that "the West has little room to manoeuvre."
For Zdzislaw Lochowski, who runs a project on conventional armed forces at Stockholm's SIPRI peace institute, Putin's announced freeze on the CFE is "nothing but a pretext."
"Of course, the Russians would like to see the revised version of the treaty enter into force," he said.
But Putin's real goal, Lochowski maintains, "is to force the United States to treat Moscow as a virtual equal" rather than a former superpower.
earlier related report
The Kremlin announced on Saturday that President Vladimir Putin had frozen Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty (CFE), which limits arms deployments in central and eastern Europe.
In 1990, "when the CFE was written, we and our Warsaw Pact partners had a big military advantage over NATO -- nearly two to one," daily Vremya Novostei quoted former foreign intelligence officer Gennady Yevstafyev as saying.
"Now NATO, especially after expanding in 2004 from 19 to 26 members, has an advantage over us in terms of conventional arms of three to one," he said.
Moscow has pushed hard to redress the imbalance by having all NATO members ratify a new version of the CFE agreed in 1999, particularly the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
They have refused to do so, citing Moscow's failure to honour commitments made that year to withdraw its forces from the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova.
Russia "decided to actively force a political confrontation with the West, and at the same time free its hands in the case of a new global arms race," Vremya Novostei wrote.
The withdrawal comes into effect after 150 days, during which time Moscow hopes NATO will back down, daily Kommerant wrote.
It also said the implied threat of new arms deployments on Europe's border is meant to obstruct US missile defence plans in central Europe.
"Moscow is counting on strengthening one of its main trump cards in the fight with the United States over missile defence: Eastern European concerns about the new spiral of Russian-American confrontation," Kommersant wrote.
US plans to place a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic have enfuriated Moscow, which has threatened to target nuclear missiles at Europe in reponse, and said the plans jeopardized Europe's safety.
"The president's order has given the West one more chance -- maybe their last -- to address European safety not in words, but in deeds," official daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote.
earlier related report
When a journalist from Trybuna, a Polish daily, suggested that Poles might need to think about buying warm clothes to prepare for being sent to Siberia in the case of a Russian retaliation to the missile shield project, Army General Yury Baluyevsky, Chief of Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said it wasn't warm clothes they would need, but protective equipment.
"The decision to place [the shield] on Polish soil was taken by the Polish government. It seems to fully realize what kind of retaliation this may lead to... What they really should be concerned about is what will happen in the event that the shield works at all," Baluyevsky said.
"Intercepted missiles will disperse over your territory, and you will need to think not about warm clothes, but about acquiring gas masks and other protective equipment," he said.
The chief of staff dismissed the Pentagon's justification for the shield plans.
"As for the arguments [in favor of the shield], they can be described very simply - non-existent," he said in the interview, which was re-published on the Russian Defense Ministry's website.
He said that even the architects of a Europe-based U.S. anti-missile solution had already dropped their assertion that North Korea ever posed a missile threat to U.S. or Europe, and that "talk of a hypothetical Iranian threat takes a leaf from the same book," adding that this claim was also likely to be dropped soon.
When asked why Russia, with its powerful nuclear arsenal, is afraid of a handful of U.S. missiles in Poland, he said Russia was worried about the "third site" as an element of a much broader agenda.
"Of course a dozen such missiles as the Americans are planning to deploy in Poland - unproven and untested as they are - are not seen as a direct threat to Russia's deterrent capability," he said. "However, the U.S. doctrine treats missile defense as part of a broader 'strategic triad,' which also includes offensive strategic weapons."
"We are sure that U.S. missile defense capability, including a proposed European site, would develop, and its anti-Russian capability would grow in the future," Baluyevsky said. "In such an environment, we would be forced to take appropriate countermeasures."
He said Washington's decision to deploy a missile shield in Europe was "logical, but only under a logic that belongs to a past era."
"You have Russia and the United States, and both have to reduce their nuclear capabilities. What you want is to be able to deliver a first strike while minimizing your potential enemy's ability to do so. To achieve that, you need to encircle the enemy's territory with offensive and missile-defense bases. . . This is normal military logic. The only problem is that this is the logic of a past era - the Cold War, and standoffs between blocs in Europe."
"During that era, there were ideological grounds. . . Today, there is no such confrontation, but the ideas of that era seem to be alive and well. This is where the logic breaks," Baluyevsky said.
During the interview, Baluyevsky took a global map of U.S. anti-missile sites and said that "all these sites are close to Russian borders, all are looking toward Russia. This is the reason why we have said our country is being militarily encircled."
When asked about Europe's apparent indecision over the shield, Baluyevsky praised the EU for its readiness to discuss all difficult issues.
"The issue affects all Europeans and must therefore be discussed on a multilateral basis," he said.
"It is dangerous to make decisions of such seriousness without even talking to your neighbors," he added.
Baluyevsky denied that Russia's recent reaction to missile plans was "knee-jerk," and said that historically, cooperation between Russia and the West was always more effective than fighting. He declined to give his personal assessment of Poland's policies concerning the shield and other issues.
"Assessments of the actions of a foreign government is not my territory. The Poles have elected this government and only they are in a position to decide whether its course is satisfactory and whether the alliances this government makes are good. What makes me sad is the current relationship that we have with Poland - on the state as well as military level," he said.
"I think what is happening now in Russian-Polish relations will also become history, albeit one with an unpleasant aftertaste. I am optimistic; I believe that good sense will prevail eventually," Russia's top general said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Source: United Press International
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Russia Pulls Out Of Key European Arms Treaty
Moscow (AFP) July 14, 2007
Russia will no longer respect a key arms treaty that limits the deployment of military forces in Europe, the Kremlin said Saturday in the latest escalation of tensions between Moscow and the West. President Vladimir Putin signed a decree suspending Russia's adherence to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) arms control treaty due to "exceptional circumstances ... broaching on the security of the Russian Federation," the Kremlin said in a statement.
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