RFE/RL correspondent Michael Scollon asks Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defense analyst and columnist for the Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta," what he believes Russia hopes to achieve by threatening to scrap the CFE.
RFE/RL: What are Russia's main problems with the CFE treaty?
Pavel Felgenhauer: Basically about the Istanbul commitments [commitments Russia made in Istanbul in 1999 under the CFE II treaty to remove its troops from Georgia and Moldova] -- the Russian presence in the former CIS, and that is the main problem.
The main sticking point now is Moldova, where Russia is adamantly refusing to withdraw its troops from the Transdniester region. And President [Vladimir] Putin and other Russian officials have said that they do not recognize the right of the West to impose on Russia such limitations and basically do not want to withdraw their troops, and Moscow said they have a right to keep them there.
This is another thing that will decrease trust and increase tension, creating a confrontation that some call the 'New Cold War.'
There are other, more minor, problems. Russia wants a ratification of the adapted treaty [CFE II] and wants further changes, mostly to fully abandon right off the 'flank' limitations [eds: The CFE Flank Agreement retained limits on equipment such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, but applies them to a smaller area] that were in the original treaty and now Russia believes that there should not be any flank limitations. That's again a sticking point, especially with Turkey and Norway.
RFE/RL: Why has Russia said it will wait for 150 days officially to leave the treaty, and during this period what is the status of its commitments?
Felgenhauer: So right now, this 150 day period, this is a legality. So Russia right now is still complying to CFE. Actually, last month the Russian Defense Ministry refused two requests -- or postponed them, actually, as it was -- for inspections from Bulgaria and Romania. I was told several days ago by an American diplomat here in Moscow that Russia has changed its mind, and now the inspections are going ahead, including also an inspection that was demanded by the United States. So Russia is right now complying for 150 days more, beginning from July 14. That's a legal requirement. Of course there can be consultations during this period, but right now both sides have dug in their heels and it doesn't seem that anything might budge.
RFE/RL: Russia says it is not "closing the door" on negotiations on the CFE treaty -- what concessions will Russia be seeking in the next 150 days?
Felgenhauer: The main Russian concession -- what Russia is demanding is -- is a swift ratification of the adapted treaty (CFE II), adapted in 1999 in Istanbul, which the West is refusing, demanding that Russia should first fully withdraw troops from Moldova and Georgia. Russia is of course right now withdrawing its bases from Georgia, but it's not clear if it would fully withdraw because there is a base in Abkhazia, in Gudauta, which apparently has not been fully withdrawn. Then there is the problem of Russian peacekeeping troops, whose presence Georgia doesn't like.
RFE/RL: What makes the CFE treaty so significant, and how closely were the two sides abiding by its terms in the first place?
Felgenhauer: More or less the treaty was adhered to. It helped to create an unprecedented in history disarmament in Europe, when right now we don't have any -- the American forces before CFE were 600,000 men and women in arms in Europe; now there's only 60,000 left -- that's a 10 times reduction. And there were many other reductions, so this created a network of peace and trust in Europe, which right now are being undermined by Russia withdrawing from the treaty.
RFE/RL: What changes can we expect if Russia withdraws from the CFE?
Felgenhauer: No one right now is expecting a buildup of any forces anywhere, like it was during the Cold War when two great armies faced each other in mid Europe. Such a thing is impossible. But lost of trust, and since there are many other different issues that create ill feeling between Russia and the West -- it's missile defense, the Kosovo problem, the slaying of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London -- I mean, lots of other things. And this is another thing that will decrease trust and increase tension, creating a confrontation that some call the 'New Cold War.'
RFE/RL: How does the CFE affect Russia's ability to address security on its own territory, and how will dropping the treaty affect its relations with the West?
Felgenhauer: The CFE did not play any significant role in actual military operations in the North Caucasus or military deployments because everyone more or less is way below quotas.
Pavel Felgenhauer (RFE/RL file photo)
What's being lost with Russia withdrawing from the CFE is trust and transparency, which will create much ill feeling between Russia and the West -- especially between Russia and Europe, because the United States has its own capabilities to monitor Russian military movements from satellites and so on. But the United States does not fully or eagerly share this information with its European allies.
The CFE did not play any significant role in actual military operations in the North Caucasus or military deployments because everyone more or less is way below quotas.
RFE/RL: Could Moscow's decision in any way be tied to the Sochi Olympics? For example, if Russia sought to boost security by bringing in more troops, would the treaty have hampered such an effort?
Felgenhauer: No it's not connected to the Sochi Olympics -- only maybe Russia was waiting for the formal announcement of its withdraw after the vote to get the Olympics. Just tactical things.
RFE/RL: Is there anything about the timing of Russia's announcement that is significant? For example, do you think it was intended to counter the July 16 talks in Washington between the U.S. and Polish presidents, seeing as they are expected to discuss the contentious plans to set up parts of a missile-defense system in Central Europe?
Felgenhauer: I don't think that that [was the case]. President Putin announced his intention to do what was done in April. Since then, how to do it legally was being very hotly discussed in Moscow.
RFE/RL: Are any other countries likely to follow Russia's lead by suspending their participation in the CFE treaty?
Felgenhauer: Well, Belarus might. Hardly anyone else right now, and I'm not totally sure that Belarus will, because actually dropping this treaty doesn't give Belarus anything.