Are you sure?

Russia, US try to bridge differences on arms control pact

Russia said it wanted to make further changes to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and tried to bridge its difference with the United States as the 30 signatory states started an emergency meeting on Tuesday.

“Russia remains committed to the noble goals that were taken about 20 years ago as a basis of the European mode of control over conventional weapons,” said Anatoly Antonov, who heads the Russian delegation. “But Europe has changed, and this circumstance necessitates a modernization of the set of tools used to achieve these goals,” he added. The original CFE treaty, a cornerstone of European security, was signed in 1990 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the then Warsaw Treaty Organization.

It prescribes limits for the amounts of military aircraft, tanks and other non-nuclear heavy weapons deployed around Europe. The treaty was amended in 1999 to reflect changes after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union, but the adapted version so far has only been ratified by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The United States and other NATO members have refused to ratify the amended treaty, accusing Russia of failing to meet the so-called “Istanbul commitment” to withdraw military forces from Georgia and Moldova. Russia, concerned about the original treaty's restrictions on troop movements within its borders, wants NATO members to rapidly ratify the amended version.

Antonov, who is director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's security and disarmament department, said Russia's “partners should realize that Russia cannot and will not fulfill the obsolete treaty at any cost to the detriment of its own security.” Russia intends to start new negotiations on further changes to the treaty as soon as the 1999 treaty is ratified by all NATO member states. “These days, one can say it is hopelessly outmoded. Many eastern and central European countries have already joined NATO,” Antonov said ahead of Tuesday's talks, which will last until Friday. The United States, however, insisted that Russia should fulfill its Istanbul commitment first. “We are not going to give the Russians a pass on their obligations,” said Daniel Fried, US assistant secretary of state, who heads the delegation.

“Russia has to fulfill its commitment,” he said. Fried said Washington is willing to ratify the 1999 treaty once the condition is met. “My government looks forward to (the) ratification of an adapted treaty,” he said. But Russia rejected the link between its military withdrawal and NATO members' ratification. After Tuesday's talks, the Russian delegation said it was disappointed because the US failed to talk about anything substantial, but they would like to see what will happen in the following days. Fried said his Russian counterpart was cooperative but he was not sure of what could be finally achieved.

“There was nothing in what he said that precludes the possibility of working together. That doesn't mean it will happen, “ Fried said. While it was hoped that Russia was willing to cooperate in salvaging the treaty, Russia's true intentions could only be determined in the next days, he added. Analysts said there would be a slight possibility for a breakthrough, but dialogue itself was a kind of success. The CFE signatory states are expected to meet again in autumn. Hopes for a breakthrough are moderate. Most Western diplomats would regard it as a success if the parties kept talking, probably until a follow-up conference in autumn.

The extraordinary meeting came after Russian President Vladimir Putin late April announced Russia it would suspend its obligation under the CFE treaty, following US plans to deploy a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Antonov said on Monday that a final decision would be largely based on the outcome of the Vienna conference and suspension was not off the table. Angered at the US missile defense plans, Putin has warned recently that Russia may re-target Europe.

“If part of the US strategic nuclear arsenal is located in Europe and our military experts find that it poses a threat to Russia, we will have to take appropriate retaliatory steps,” he said. “We will have new targets in Europe.” Russia made the request for an emergency conference two weeks ago, but Antonov denied it was provoked by the US missile defense plans. (