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Russia Rejects NATO Offer As Crisis Looms Over CFE

In a telephone call with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said bilateral talks on the treaty would continue. Lavrov emphasised Russia's "willingness to keep discussing a series of questions connected with the CFE," the ministry said in a statement. Photo courtesy AFP.
by Dario Thuburn
Moscow (AFP) Jul 19, 2007
Russia rejected a NATO offer for consultations on a key European arms treaty Wednesday, but said it would continue talks with the United States on the treaty and dismissed the idea of a new Cold War. Russia last week announced it would suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) arms control treaty after months of tensions over US plans to deploy an anti-missile system in central Europe.

In a statement on Monday, NATO expressed concern about the Russian suspension, urging Moscow to enter into talks to ensure the text was not abandoned.

"I don't see much point in holding such a meeting since the position of NATO on the CFE treaty has not yet changed," Yevgeny Buzhinsky, a top defence ministry official, was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying.

The CFE treaty limits deployments of tanks and troops in NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries.

In a telephone call with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, however, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said bilateral talks on the treaty would continue.

Lavrov emphasised Russia's "willingness to keep discussing a series of questions connected with the CFE," the ministry said in a statement.

Buzhinsky, who heads up the defence ministry department in charge of international treaties, also questioned on Wednesday Russia's participation in two key nuclear arms agreements with the United States.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Washington should be turned into a multilateral agreement and the United States should respond to Russian offers on the Strategic Offensive Reductions treaty, Buzhinsky said.

"This treaty imposes restrictions only on two sides. I would propose making it multilateral," Buzhinsky said, referring to the 1987 INF accord, which bans ballistic and cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometres.

On the 2002 Strategic Offensive Reductions treaty, which aims to reduce warheads in Russia and the United States by two-thirds, he said: "We still haven't received an answer to our proposals from the United States."

He stressed that the treaty provisions run out in 2009.

But the Russian general also rejected talk of a "new Cold War," which has gained ground because of the recent tensions between Moscow and Washington and an increasingly assertive Russian foreign policy.

"I don't see the basis for a start of some new Cold War. There aren't the same ideological contradictions now that existed then. But it's true that we don't like the actions of our Western partners," he said.

Buzhinsky also emphasised that Russia was not planning an arms build-up on its Western frontier and would not deploy short- and medium-range missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and Lithuania.

"The Russian moratorium on the CFE absolutely does not mean that our troops will be increased on the western frontier. We do not see this as necessary," Buzhinsky said.

The Russian general said the CFE treaty should either be changed or a new one should be negotiated. If NATO countries do not ratify the treaty by December, Russia will pull out, he said.

NATO has insisted that its members can ratify the treaty only after Russia pulls all its troops out of two former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, where Russia has peacekeeping contingents.

earlier related report
Outside View: CFE crisis looms
by Pyotr Romanov for RIA Novosti
International diplomacy has never been a particularly sane creature, but today it has clearly become even more unbalanced.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree suspending Russia's fulfillment of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, or CFE, and related international agreements. It will withdraw from the CFE 150 days after the signatory countries receive the official notifications, which are most likely already on their way.

The West immediately frowned and expressed its regret over Moscow's moves. The disappointment, I presume, was genuine -- it is not too often in diplomatic practice that a group of countries can successfully pull the wool over the eyes of a treaty participant for decades. And when the deceived party finally sees the light, disappointment is natural.

But let us take a brief look back at the treaty's history. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was signed in 1990, a year before the breakup of the Soviet Union. A modified version, taking into account new geopolitical realities, was inked in 1999 in Istanbul, but ratified only by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Baltics did not join it. Georgia and Moldova refused to ratify it, demanding that Russian troops be pulled out under the Istanbul agreements, which were signed together with the agreement adapting the CFE.

This is the pretext under which NATO countries have been blocking the entry into force of the adapted treaty. Considering that Russian troops have already pulled out of Georgia as stipulated by the Istanbul agreements and Transdnestr only has the minimum force needed to keep peace in that area, the excuse rings hollow.

On the other hand, the West has done whatever it pleased over these past decades: It bombed and dismembered Yugoslavia; brought American and NATO bases closer to the Russian borders in spite of having promised never to do so; armed the Baltic countries because they do not formally belong to the CFE; grossly violated the United Nations Charter in Iraq and is now proposing to place an American missile defense shield under Russia's nose.

One need not be a political expert to get the sense that something is not quite right here. Nor is this sad conclusion altered by the idea that the CFE is actually a Potemkin treaty, although Europe often loftily refers to it as "the cornerstone of European security."

Sergei Karaganov, one of the leading Russian experts on Europe, said: "I think the treaty is destined for the ash heap of history. Well, good riddance."

In the view of the deputy director for research of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, "We will now have our hands free ... The concern they are showing is hypocritical. But everybody knows that the treaty was a non-starter and was used to take advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s."

Theoretically, the 150-day moratorium granted by Moscow enables Western politicians to review their policy, but there is little chance the treaty will be revived -- politics all too often succumbs to inertia. So it looks like the world has forgotten all about the bright future it imagined was in store for it during the heady days of the last century; its optimism, it seems, has faded almost as fast as the millennial fireworks.

The fact that the 21st century has failed to live up to the hopes pinned on it is clear. The new generation of politicians has not grown smarter. It is unwilling to take its partners' interests into account and incapable of learning from past mistakes.

What good has come for the European Union from a buildup in the number of European bureaucrats deciding the lives of Europeans? None. They were unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the breakup of the Soviet Union. They did not want to welcome Moscow into the fold by breaking down the Iron Curtain and building in its place a bridge of trust. Instead, they strengthened NATO, gave Russia the unfair CFE Treaty, brought military equipment nearer to Russian borders, allowed American missile facilities to be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland, and so on.

Blinded by its own hubris, Europe missed the most important thing. Now, taking a closer look, it has suddenly discovered that it is facing not a helpless Yeltsin-era Russia, but a Russia of Putin, gathering strength and full of ambition. As a result of major foreign policy blunders, Europe is likely to face very real Russian nuclear missiles, armor and heavy artillery instead of tranquil eastern borders.

It could not have been otherwise. Moscow is within its rights to protect its security as it sees fit. Not because it wants to arm itself once again, but because U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and the rest of the American-European political comrades-in-arms have left Russia no other options.

Every world crisis, like every rock slide, is set in motion by a single stone. In the case of Europe, there are three potential stones: missile defense, Kosovo and the CFE. All it will take is for someone to touch just one of them.

(Pyotr Romanov is a political analyst with RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

Source: Agence France-Presse

Source: RIA Novosti

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