Russia called for an emergency meeting in Vienna to try and speed up the ratification of the 1999 amended CFE treaty version by the U.S. and Europe. The original treaty was signed in 1990, a year before the collapse of the Soviet Union and three months ahead of the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Since then, all of its former members joined NATO and so did the former Soviet Baltic republics, which has totally changed the balance of forces. Even an amended CFE treaty will now have to be re-amended after ratification. The West now has three times as much heavy military equipment - aircraft, tanks and artillery mounts - as Russia.
President Vladimir Putin said in his recent state of the nation address that Russia could declare a moratorium on observing the CFE treaty, that is, suspend its obligations under the treaty which is in fact observed by Russia alone.
None of the Western countries agrees to ratify the treaty adapted in 1999 unless Russian forces pull out of the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova. Russia retorts that its pullout from Georgia and Transdnestr, a self-proclaimed republic in Moldova, has nothing to do with the CFE treaty, while Moscow's statements at the Istanbul conference were voluntary and non-binding.
In any case, Russia will remove all of its military bases from Georgia in 2008, and even NATO members acknowledge progress on the issue. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, who headed the American delegation at the Vienna conference, said that Russia had greatly progressed in fulfilling the so-called Istanbul commitments on Georgia. Still the Transdnestr situation remains a major stumbling block. The diplomat called for a "creative" solution obviously referring to Russia's position: Moscow insists its troops are on a lawful peacekeeping mission in Transdnestr.
Anatoly Antonov, the head of the Russian delegation, presented Russia's "roadmap plan" to save the CFE treaty in his opening remarks at the Vienna meeting. The first item on the plan called for the Baltic states to join the treaty, followed by a requirement to limit the permitted numbers of weapons and military equipment for NATO in order to square the advantage it received after expanding to East-European nations.
Russia also proposed to define the term "substantial conventional forces" and to "exercise restraint" in their build-up until they are defined. (This means that the United States will have to abandon its plan to deploy 5,000 troops to Romania and Bulgaria).
In addition, Moscow insists on putting into effect the CFE treaty adaptation agreement no later than July 1, 2008, and on the development of conditions for admitting new signatories.
Russia also demanded that the West lifted the so-called flank limitations on Russia's territory. If a solution is not found within one year, Russia may revise the decision on the moratorium. It means that we will neither admit international inspections, nor send our own expert groups; we will stop disclosing information, as we are doing now; and we will no longer be bound by any quantitative limitations, the Russian Foreign Ministry says.
Even though criticized by a number of national and foreign media, Moscow did show willingness to find a creative solution to the Transdnestr situation. Deputy head of the Russian delegation Mikhail Ulyanov said Russia would consider a compromise over Moldova, such as an international peacekeeping force to replace Russian troops in Transdnestr, albeit as a separate issue from the Vienna conference focus.
Western delegates to the Vienna conference said the best that could be hoped for was an agreement to continue consultations after these talks end on Friday, and reconvene the conference at some time in the future. Reuters reported that most non-Russian delegates would be satisfied if the outcome was merely peaceful. "I have not lost hope," said one Western participant. "I'm still optimistic."
That Washington, too, made some concessions is certainly encouraging. It agreed to start discussing all of Moscow's security concerns in September, at the level of foreign and defense ministers. Four working groups are to be set up on Russia's initiative: a group on missile defense, on the CFE treaty, on replacement of nuclear warheads on Trident strategic ballistic missiles and on START-I. Fried spoke about it in early May, just as Democrat Brad Sherman, chair of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, said it was more important for the United States to cooperate with Russia on Iran than to quarrel over missile defense.
It looks like the future of the CFE treaty will be decided at the September talks. The fewer participants, the easier it will be to reach agreement.
What Moscow wants is to alter the model of interaction outlined in the 1990s, when Western nations cooperated with it in return for its unilateral concessions. Putin's statement on the CFE treaty moratorium should be interpreted in this context. It was not an ultimatum, but an invitation to dialogue.
Nikolai Khorunzhy is an independent military expert.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.