Addressing reporters at the close of the closed-door Vienna meeting, Russian delegates said they were "unhappy" with its outcome.
"We were hoping our partners would hold more constructive views," said Russia's chief negotiator Anatoly Antonov.
"It was clear that the position of Russia and the West would clash even before the Vienna forum began," Russia's "Kommersant" daily commented on June 14, two days into the conference that followed unsuccessful consultations within the framework of the Russia-NATO Joint Permanent Council earlier this year.
The emergency talks took place a few weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened that Russia would freeze its commitments under the landmark Cold War-era disarmament treaty unless NATO countries hasten the ratification of its adapted version.
In his state-of-the-nation address to the Federal Assembly on April 26, Putin complained that Russia is one of the very few countries -- with Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine -- that have formally approved the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty to date. He accused NATO members of dragging their feet with its ratification with a view to gaining "unilateral" strategic advantages over Moscow.
He added that unless the alliance "begins effectively contributing to the arms reduction process in Europe," Russia would no longer feel any obligations with regard to the CFE Treaty.
The United States and other NATO countries have said that they will not ratify the 1999 Adapted CFE Treaty until Moscow withdraws all its troops, military equipment, and ammunition stockpiles from Georgia and Moldova's Russian-speaking separatist region of Trandsniester.
Under commitments made in 1999 in Istanbul, Russia agreed to vacate its military facilities from those two countries within specific deadlines that were renegotiated after it missed them.
Daniel Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Eurasian and European affairs who led the U.S. delegation at the start of the Vienna talks, acknowledged Moscow's "considerable progress" in pulling its troops from Georgia. But he deplored the continued presence of Russian military forces in Transdniester.
Another problem is posed by Russia's refusal to let international observers inspect the Abkhaz-based military facility it officially vacated in 2001.
Moscow claims it has met all its obligations toward Georgia and Moldova under the CFE Treaty and that all pending issues should be discussed within the framework of bilateral talks. In particular, it says troops stationed in Transdniester are peacekeeping forces that are not covered by the CFE Treaty regime.
Another bone of contention are U.S. plans to set up military bases in Bulgaria and Romania -- two former Soviet allies that joined NATO in 2004.
Moscow believes the bases may serve for the additional permanent stationing of "substantial combat forces" in Central Europe, something it says is banned under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. The United States has said that those facilities will be joint training grounds where there will be only few, or no permanently stationed U.S. forces at all.
Finally -- and more importantly -- Russia complains of what it says are the "humiliating and discriminatory" dispositions of the adapted CFE Treaty that allegedly forbid it to freely move troops and military equipment on its territory.
At stake are the so-called flanking arrangements that were agreed upon in 1999 to prevent countries from concentrating all their treaty-limited equipment in one single area.
Addressing reporters the day before the Vienna conference opened, Russian delegation head Antonov said Moscow's objective was to have the adapted CFE Treaty ratified by all its signatories so that new negotiations on the flank limitations could start as soon as possible.
In other words, he said Moscow was seeking "an adaptation of the adapted CFE Treaty."
In the course of the conference, Antonov and his team circulated a package of six proposals that should have served as a basis for a final joint statement.
The proposals include the abolition of the flank arrangements for Russia; the entering into force of the adapted CFE treaty no later than July 1, 2008; and the lowering of treaty limits for NATO "to compensate for the military potential acquired by the alliance as a result of its two waves of enlargement."
Russia is also demanding that the CFE regime be extended to NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- which were still under Soviet occupation in 1990.
Finally, it is suggesting that state parties agree on a definition of what constitutes "substantial combat forces" and on the conditions under which new countries could join the CFE Treaty.
In Antonov's words, this plan reflects the geopolitical changes that have taken place in Europe since the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact and should be seen as "a kind of roadmap that is necessary to revive the practicability of the CFE Treaty."
Fried and other U.S. diplomats in turn say many Russian concerns -- including those related to the possible deployment of allied forces in the Baltic region -- could be resolved once the adapted CFE Treaty comes into force. That means when Moscow fully meets the Istanbul commitments. They also say Washington recently proposed that an international peacekeeping force that would include Russian troops be deployed in Trandsniester.
But they also make it clear that NATO allies will not compromise on issues that could endanger the CFE Treaty, which they describe as "a cornerstone of European security" that helped decommission some 60,000 tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters since it came into force 15 years ago. They also say alliance members are committed to preserving the existing flank agreements.
The ball is now in Putin's court.
Antonov said his delegation would report on the outcome of the conference to the Russian president, "who will in turn make the appropriate decisions."
At the same time, he said he did not see the failure of the conference as "the end of the story" and insisted that Moscow is ready to continue dialogue with NATO.
Speaking to reporters before leaving Vienna, Fried on June 12 said nothing in the Russians' approach precluded the possibility of "working together."
Yet, he added: "That doesn't mean it will happen."
"Kommersant" believes the proposals made by Russia amount to an "ultimatum." "Either the West accepts them, or Moscow will first stop implementing the CFE Treaty and then will withdraw from it," the daily wrote on June 14.
Russian delegates at the Vienna talks have said in case Russia would declare a moratorium it would not proceed to any military buildup that would contravene the CFE Treaty, but would simply stop communicating any information to NATO and suspend its participation to the inspection process.
There is one problem, however.
As Fried reminded this week, the CFE Treaty contains no provision for suspension.
And according to a recent NATO fact sheet, any decision to unilaterally declare a moratorium "would constitute a direct violation of the treaty."
A Russian soldier watching Russian armaments leave Georgia in 2006 (epa)
AGREEMENTS ON CONVENTIONAL FORCES IN EUROPE. The CFE treaty is an arms-control agreement originally negotiated between NATO and the Warsaw Pact as a guarantor of European security in Europe in the waning days of the Cold War.
- The original CFE Treaty took 10 years to negotiate, was signed by 30 states ** in November 1990, and came in to force in 1992. Its aim: to reduce stockpiles of conventional armaments between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural mountains.
The blocs limited themselves to:
20,000 artillery pieces
30,000 armored combat vehicles
6,800 combat aircraft
2,000 attack helicopters
- The CFE-1A, a 1992 addendum, has resulted in the withdrawal of more than 700,000 troops from Europe since 2001 and the destruction of 50,000 pieces of military equipment by 1995.
- The CFE-II, negotiated in Istanbul in 1999, reflected the new, post-Soviet landscape by setting arms limits for individual countries, rather than zones. The agreement aided NATO's expansion efforts by allowing signatory states to allow foreign forces on their soil.
- NATO states have not ratified the CFE-II due to concerns over Russia's failure to comply with commitments it made during the negotiations. Under the Istanbul Accords, Russia pledged to set a timetable for closing its remaining military bases in Georgia and to completely withdraw its forces from Moldova.
- The CFE-II will come into force once ratified by all 30 CFE signatories. Thus far only Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine have ratified the CFE-II.
- In ratifying the agreement in June 2004, Russia called on the signatories not to delay in ratifying the document. Russia expressed concern that Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia, as nonmembers of the treaty, could possibly harbor NATO troops near its western border.
(** Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovak Republic, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. )