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Russia: Analysis From Washington--Outflanked On CFE

  • Paul Goble

Washington, 30 April 1997 (RFE/RL) -- As the deadline for ratification of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) flank modification agreement approaches, Russia's neighbors from the Baltic Sea to the Caspian are concerned that the new accord may threaten their national security.

While all these countries acknowledge the need for updating the 1990 CFE accord to reflect new geopolitical realities, they are disturbed by both the modifications and the way in which these modifications have been negotiated.

And as the May 15 deadline for ratification approaches, they have become increasingly vocal about their worries, even as NATO countries have pressed them to agree.

The countries in this region vary widely in the stress they give to any particular issue, but they share three concerns about the way in which the modifications were developed and five concerns about the modifications themselves.

With respect to the way in which the modifications were developed, these countries were upset by the way in which the Russian government used brinksmanship to advance its own demands for changes. Moscow insisted on getting its way by threatening to violate the accord if it did not.

They are troubled by the extent to which Russian-American agreement has, in their view, been imposed on them. Many of them believe that once again, their fate has been negotiated over their heads if not behind their backs.

And perhaps most important, they continue to be concerned that the proposed modifications in the CFE treaty may have the effect of legitimizing Russian dominance over the territory of a country that no longer exists, namely, the Soviet Union.

Their five specific concerns include, first of all, a conviction that the new accord gives Russia far too much military power in key regions.

While the actual numbers of treaty-limited equipment involved in any particular place are in fact small, they often seem very large to these states.

Second, those countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States fear that the new flank agreement effectively annuls an earlier agreement among them permitting shifts of CFE forces there only by consensus.

Third, these countries are concerned that Moscow will seek to coerce particular countries into allowing the Russian acquisition of CFE limited equipment and thus put pressure on third countries.

This is especially true in the southern Caucasus where both Georgia and Azerbaijan have indicated that they believe Moscow will try to do just that with Armenia.

And they are not reassured that they will be able to stand up to such pressure or will be much assisted by an American offer to mediate such disputes.

Fourth, they are troubled by the agreement's failure to define the "temporary" stationing of troops thereby opening the door to the introduction of Russian forces on a virtually permanent basis.

And fifth, they are concerned that the accord does not address the numbers of permitted equipment in the so-called "white spots," conflict areas like Abkhazia and Karabakh in which potentially massive forces could be placed and not be in violation of CFE norms.

In each case, these countries might be reassured by the arguments of some that such bilateral accords are the basis of the international system in the broader world and that in many cases Russia would receive no more rights than NATO countries already have.

But such arguments, in the minds of many in these countries, ignore their often complicated history with Russia and the fact that the CFE enterprise was launched precisely to control the deployment of Russian power.

Consequently, discussions about ratification of these accords over the next two weeks will be about far more than the simple CFE equipment limits. They will be the occasion for a full-dress review of just where these countries stand in the world.

No one wants to see the CFE accord fail, but for the countries in the zone next to Russia, that is not the only question. They do not want to see the accord ratified in a way that will confirm their fears rather than their hopes.