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Withdrawal of Russian Troops in the Context of CFE Adapted Treaty: Perceptions, Interests, and the Changing Nature of European Security

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Iulian Fruntasu / January 16, 2005
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Though it is not that well known to the general public, the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe is one of the corner-stones of European Security. During the Cold War it contributed significantly to the maintenance of European stability and security by setting up legally-binding levels for conventional armaments (five categories: tanks, armored combat vehicles, pieces of artillery caliber 100mm, combat planes and attack helicopters), their considerable reduction (altogether 59 000 units until 28.05.01, when the CFE Review Conference took place), strengthening of transparency and confidence-building by establishing the inspection regime and exchange of information, as well as setting up the special Flank regime where NATO forces and Warsaw Pact were in a closer contact — by setting up smaller number of holdings and less flexibilities. With the disappearance of Warsaw Pact and disintegration of USSR the member-States launched the process of CFE Treaty adaptation to the new political and security realities on the European continent, signing the CFE adapted Treaty on 19.11.99 during the OSCE Summit in Istanbul.

As follows, we will review the Decisions adopted during the OSCE Summit regarding Moldova, their content and nature, conflicting perceptions of parties involved when it comes to the modalities of implementation, the Russian Federation’s view regarding the adapted Treaty and last but not least the perspectives of the Republic of Moldova to use this tool of European security in order to advance its national interests. Due to the lack of space, the particular elements of the adaptation process will be explained only to the extent to which these shed some light on the problems and challenges faced by the Republic of Moldova.

It should be mentioned that during the process of adaptation the Moldovan diplomacy spared considerable effort concerning the strengthening of obligation to secure the consent of host-state for the temporary deployments, looking for solution in the Treaty context to the illegal presence of Russian forces, for solution to the problem of Treaty limited equipment unaccounted for. During many years the national interests regarding CFE were promoted extremely insistent and in particular during 1999 due to the intensification of negotiations. This took place by delivering statements and speeches at the Joint Consultative Group tasked to negotiate the adaptation, by launching initiatives and draft decisions, by means of countless consultations and negotiations both in formal framework and unofficially in Vienna as well as other capitals. Taking all these into account the success of Istanbul came as no surprise to those directly involved into the process of adaptation, though it cannot be rejected a certain positive influence of international circumstances, such as the Western CFE member-States’ pressure on the Russian Federation for breaching levels for holdings in the Flank Zone, in particular, in the Northern Caucasus where Russians launched operations using massively conventional armaments. Despite all that, during the last two days in Istanbul a scenario was circulated by which Moldova could had been sidelined because some important states were afraid that a fundamental decision for the European security could be blocked by a regional problem. With some nerve, well-calculated steps, involvement of delegations from Western countries as mediators, Moldovan Delegation succeeded to finalize the negotiations with Russians around 03.00 o’clock in the morning on 19.11.99, after which followed the CFE Conference. The official ceremony of signing the Treaty by Heads of States and Governments took place at eight o’clock in the morning, only a couple of hours away from the conclusion of negotiations.

So, the Final Act, which is part of the package of understandings together with the CFE adapted Treaty[1], contains the following references to Moldova: “[Member-States] …Have taken note of the statement by the Republic of Moldova, which is attached to this Final Act, concerning its renunciation of the right to receive a temporary deployment on its territory[2] and have welcomed the commitment of the Russian federation to withdraw and/or destroy Russian conventional armaments and equipment limited by the Treaty by the end of 2001, in the context of its commitment referred to in paragraph 19 of the Istanbul summit Declaration.”[3]

Here it is important to make a distinction between the adapted Treaty which by the way contains clauses regarding the consent of host-State[4], including the Final Act, that in turn contains very strong political commitments because they had been undertaken in the package with the adapted Treaty, and the Istanbul Summit Declaration that has a political implementation regime as any other OSCE document. On the other hand it could be argued that the cross-references between the Final Act and the Summit Declaration strengthened the mandatory nature of the latter. Istanbul Declaration says the following relevant things about Moldova in the first two paragraphs: “Recalling the decisions of the Budapest and Lisbon Summits and Oslo Ministerial Meeting, we reiterate our expectation of an early, orderly and complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. In this context, we welcome the recent progress achieved in the removal and destruction of the Russian military equipment stockpiled in the Trans-Dniestrian region of Moldova and the completion of the destruction of non-transportable ammunition. We welcome the commitment by the Russian Federation to complete withdrawal of the Russian forces from the territory of Moldova by the end of 2002. We also welcome the willingness of the Republic of Moldova and of the OSCE to facilitate this process, within their respective abilities (underlined by author to reject the Russian claim of conditionality), by the agreed deadline.”[5]

The web of legal and political documents, as well as the existing relationships amongst them, convey the substance of commitments undertaken with regard to Moldova:

In packageCross-references
Adapted TreatyFinal ActOSCE Summit Declaration
The consent of host State in present in several Articles. 1. Withdrawal of Russian TLE by the end of 2001.
2. Renunciation of the right to temporary deployments in the Annex 13.
 Paragraph 19. The complete withdrawal of armed forces by the end of 2002. The ammunition and other armaments are not obviously in the CFE 5 categories, but these are falling under the authority of Treaty because they are in the armed forces’ use and their excess is not relevant in the document’s terms. This somehow tautological distinction was accepted to speed up the withdrawal of combat equipment and it explains the differences between the deadlines of 2001 and that of 2002.

Now, if we place the adapted Treaty with all its commitments in the context of European security but also in that of Russian-Moldovan relations, we see that Moscow’s approaches differ depending on Russian perceptions regarding the threats and challenges it is faced with. For instance, during a high-level Conference in Munich on February 9, 2004, Serghei Ivanov, the Russian Defense Minister, declared that Russia could leave the CFE Treaty due to the fact that Baltic States are joining NATO without signing the Treaty. That obviously allows them to disregard the limits, inspection and information regimes, which in turn offers the possibility to deploy countless Alliance’s equipments on the respective territories.[6] The Russian Duma made a statement along similar lines, arguing that the integration of Baltic States into NATO creates a gray area thus Russia as a reaction could review its Istanbul commitments regarding its holdings in Kaliningrad and Pskov.[7] All this continued until NATO offered assurances that the new member-States, including Baltic States, will follow the provisions of the CFE Treaty and Alliance’s commitments in regarding Russia such as the Founding Act of Rrelationship between NATO and Russia, Rome Declaration and 2003 Madrid Declaration. The Russian Duma ratified the adapted Treaty (previously it was ratified by Belorussia, Ukraine and latter by Kazakhstan) on June 25, 2004[8], and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, participating to the Ministerial Council in Sofia at the end on last year, was already appealing in favor of ratification of adapted Treaty.[9] This leads us to the conclusion that Russians exercised political pressure that turned to be a successful effort because apparently NATO offered guarantees on non-deployment of troops in new member-States that were quite credible since Moscow moved rapidly from the idea of leaving the Treaty to its ratification. In a wider context it is obvious the fact that the CFE adapted Treaty is a document that is more convenient to Russian Federation than to the Alliance because NATO anyhow was showing some sort of understanding for many years for the violation of limits in the Northern Caucasus and for Moscow’s behavior in the so-called near-abroad. Currently, things are changing in the sense that the tolerance regarding the illegal presence of Russian troops is diminishing, though Moscow tries to underline the adapted Treaty provisions that are convenient to it (it was even able to extract additional guarantees from NATO, as we saw) and to downgrade its commitments regarding Moldova and Georgia, claiming either that these are political and without any deadline for implementation, or that these are bilateral with no effect on third parties.[10] But if we attempt to imagine a hypothetical situation in which Poland would state that its commitment annexed to the Final Act regarding its limitation of holdings for tanks at 1 577, for armored combat vehicles at 1 789 and for pieces of artillery at 1 370 are not valid any longer because they are political, officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry and Defense would definitely hit the ceilings in their respective offices.

It is not difficult to notice that Russians manipulate the issue of CFE adapted Treaty, with some dexterity, indeed. Moscow knows very well that host-State consent was a fundamental principle during negations and that was dully reflected in the adapted Treaty. It knows it very well because the Russian diplomats and military were the strongest opponents that permanently were against the concept of mandatory host-State consent. Moscow knows, as well, that the Final Act political commitments are included in the package with the adapted Treaty and have a value undoubtedly superior to any other OSCE decision, that from legal point of view no decision can change the substance and terms of the Istanbul CFE Conference but another CFE Conference and that, in the end, NATO’s limits of tolerance cannot be tested indefinitely by political-diplomatic challenges as those mentioned above. After all, in comparative terms it is Moscow that needs more the CFE adapted Treaty by which it could monitor the presence and movements of Alliance along its border in the circumstance when the Russian conventional armaments are downgrading and the mobility element and the air component are superior in NATO’s case. It is true, indeed, that with an eventual disappearance of the CFE Treaty all sides would lose but Moscow’s loses would be greater and its hectic behavior during the last half of year supports the authenticity of this assertion.

It is crucial to mention that the US position made public only one year after Istanbul Summit by Mrs. Albright at the 8th OSCE Ministerial Council in Vienna on November 27–28, 2000, that the signature of CFE adapted Treaty was a historic achievement possible, in part, because of important commitments made by the Russian Federation, is valid today as well, with modification relating to the conditionality of ratification upon the complete implementation of commitments, as stipulated by the State Secretary Colin Powell at the OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia.[11] It might be true that the US and NATO generally could have their own or additional reasons to delay the ratification of adapted Treaty but we leave this subject to Russian experts that are more willing and capable in analyzing the imaginary or real flaws of the North Atlantic Alliance.

When it comes to Moldova and the CFE adapted Treaty it is relevant to keep in mind that from the perspective of many Western chancelleries this Treaty maintains a system of relations that affects the security on the whole continent and that it solves issues much more important that the presence or withdrawal of Russian army from the Moldovan territory. This situation should keep Moldovan diplomacy on the alert and to lead to additional political and diplomatic initiatives in consultations on one hand with Washington, London and Ankara, and negotiations with Moscow on the other hand. It is not the brightest idea of self-gratitude in a reduced capacity, as was shown by the 1996 Flank Agreement, to block the ratification of the adapted Treaty when this is decided by more important member-States of NATO. The following “Defense Monitor’s” assertion has a high chance to become reality without serious diplomatic initiatives regarding complete withdrawal of Russian army and that of Russian separatists: “As it was with its predecessor, the adapted treaty regime will likely be plagued by illegal Russian actions in the North Caucasus and the former Soviet Socialist Republics. Moscow views noncompliance as consistent with its security interests and therefore is willing to risk ostracism while the NATO states are deterred from punishing Russia because they are not harmed by the Russian actions”.[12]

Despite that, at this moment it is clear that the CFE adapted Treaty in Istanbul had a positive impact over the security of Moldova, since Russians withdrew and destroyed, on Western money, by the way, a significant part of armaments. In this context it is meaningful that Moscow keeps the military equipment involved in the so-called peace-keeping mission, hoping that these will be exempted from the CFE if its troops in Transnistria will receive an OSCE mandate. Another problem is the stock-piles of ammunition and armaments that should have been withdrawn by the end of 2002 — though this commitment is stipulated in the Istanbul Summit Declaration, these are also falling under the authority of CFE Treaty, as explained in the scheme drawn above — the distinction was made due to big numbers of armaments and desire to speed up the withdrawal of combat equipment in order to reduce the risk of transfer to the secessionists armed forces. This army, by the way, is another problem because the core of it was established in majority of cases by the deliberate and eager transfers from the 14th Army. When the constitutional authorities do not control the Treaty Limited Equipment they are called unaccounted for (UTLE). On the territory of Moldova there are 18 tanks, 49 armored combat vehicles, 32 pieces of artillery caliber 100 mm.[13] There is an urgent needed to launch diplomatic activities both within the CFE framework and using political mechanisms such as NATO-Russia Council, for instance, to ensure the complete withdrawal of Russian army and of UTLE from the occupied area the responsibility for which should be dully attributed to the Russian Federation.

The changing nature of European security requests, in particular from the states which are less important from the military and political perspectives, a foreign policy characterized by perseverance, imagination and dedication in order to advance better the national interests.

  1. In the adapted Treaty there is a reference clause that says: “ Having taken note of the Final Act of the Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe held in Istanbul from 17 to 19 November 1999, as well as of the statements made by certain States Parties concerning their political commitments referred to therein.” OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 1999, Istanbul Document, January 2000, PCOEW389, p. 119.
  2. This renunciation says: “The Republic of Moldova renounces the right to receive a temporary deployment on its territory due to its Constitutional provisions which control and prohibit any presence of foreign military forces on the territory of Moldova.” OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 1999, Istanbul Document, January 2000, PCOEW389, Annex 13, p. 250. The author’ dilemma who, by the way, prepared and read the Statement at the CFE Conference, was the contradiction between the short-term objective (ensuring the withdrawal of Russian troops) and that of medium-term objective (joining NATO for which there is a need of temporary deployment). At that moment the first objective was more important for the Moldovan security. It is also significant and hilarious at the same time that during the negotiations in Vienna the Moldovan statement regarding the temporary deployment was received with hostility by the Russian Federation that tried to advocate the idea that we cannot renounce a right.
  3. OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 1999, Istanbul Document, January 2000, PCOEW389, p. 48–49.
  4. A couple of examples where is mentioned the consent of host-State. In the Preamble: “Recalling their obligation to refrain in their mutual relations, as well as in their international in general, from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purpose and principles of the Charter of the United Nations”. In the Article I, par.3: “Conventional armaments and equipment of a State Party in the categories limited by the Treaty shall only be present on the territory of another State Party, or a relevant resolution of the United Nations Security Council. Explicit consent must be provided in advance, and must continue to be in effect as provided for in Article XIII, paragraph 1bis”. Istanbul Summit Declaration, OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 1999, Istanbul Document, January 2000, PCOEW389, pp. 119–120.
  5. Istanbul Summit Declaration, OSCE, Istanbul Summit, 1999, Istanbul Document, January 2000, PCOEW389, p. 48–49.
  6. “Moscow’s threat to leave treaty shocks West”, Reuters, February 9, 2004.
  7. “Заявление в связи с расширением НАТО”, Государственная Дума Федерального Собрания Российской Федерации
  8. “Госдума ратифицировала соглашение по ДОВСЕ”, Интерфакс, 25.06.04.
  9. “Лавров призывал страны ОБСЕ ратифицировать ДОВСЕ”, Интерфакс, 07.12.2004.
  10. “Министр обороны РФ: Стамбульские обязательства России являются политическими и не имеют сроков”, Интерлик, 13.07.04; “США обусловили ратификацию ДОВСЕ выполнением Россией Стамбульских обязательств”, Интерлик, 07.12.04.
  11. Remarks by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to the Ministerial Meeting of the OSCE in Sofia, 07.12.04
  12. “Russia and the CFE Treaty: The Limits of Coercion”, The Defense Monitor, December 1, 2000.
  13. Regarding the involvement of Russian armed forces in the Dniestr conflict and the number of Russian and separatists’ holdings, see Mihai Gribincea, Politica rusa a bazelor militare: Georgia si Moldova (Civitas: Chisinau, 1999), Mihai Gribincea, The Russian Policy on Military Bases: Georgia and Moldova (Cogito: Oradea, 2001); for the analysis of evolution of CFE treaty limited equipment, see Iulian Fruntasu, O istorie etnopolitica a Basarabiei, 1812–2002 (Cartier: Chisinau, 2002); for a documentary report of the armed conflict, see Anatolie Muntean si Nicolae Ciubotaru, Razboiului de pe Nistru (Ager-Economistul: Bucuresti, 2004); for a collection of documents regarding the conflict and the role of Russian Army, see Mihai Grecu si Anatol Taranu, Trupele ruse in Republica Moldova, culegere de documente si materiale (Litera: Chisinau, 2004).
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