Washington, 30 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright leaves for Moscow today against a backdrop of unresolved military issues concerning NATO expansion and limits on conventional weapons in Europe.
In a brief 24 hours on the ground, Albright will have meetings tomorrow with Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, hoping mainly to narrow differences on a Russia-NATO charter.
But her briefing book for the trip also includes talking points on a related issue of proposed changes to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) that Russia has linked to NATO expansion and not yet approved.
Albright is scheduled to have two sessions with Primakov tomorrow and, before departure on Friday plans to meet with leading Russian cultural and non-government political figures.
The State Department says she is not expected to go to the Kremlin this time to see President Boris Yeltsin and that she will be back in Washington Friday afternoon Washington time.
In Moscow, according to U.S. officials, Albright will press positions on the Russia-NATO charter laid out by NATO Secretary General Javier Solana who is the chief negotiator on the proposed document.
Both he and Albright have rejected Russia's demands for formal treaty guarantees on security and a ban on nuclear weapons deployment and facilities on the territories of new NATO members.
President Boris Yeltsin has said he thinks the issues can be settled in time to have a ceremonial signing of the Russia-NATO charter in Paris on May 27. But U.S. officials are less optimistic. They say the differences are still substantial and doubt they can be overcome by this date.
The timetable for the changes on conventional weapons deployment in Europe is even tighter -- May 15. That's the date by which 30 countries must endorse the so-called Flank Agreement of the CFE Treaty or risk a wholesale review and renegotiation of its provisions.
At stake is maintaining overall ceilings on conventional military equipment -- tanks, armored combat vehicles and artillery -- but taking some areas out of the treaty zone to ease restrictions on conventional arms on Ukraine's southern border and on Russia's southern as well as northern periphery.
Both countries had wanted amendments to the CFE treaty which came into force in 1992 and was originally negotiated by 22 NATO and Warsaw Pact members led by the Soviet Union.
In May 1992, before the treaty entered into force, eight former Soviet states divided the equipment entitlements of the Soviet Union among themselves in the so-called "Tashkent agreement."
Subsequently, Ukraine and Russia asked for a loosening of its limits to reflect geo-political and military changes in the region.
Russia said more forces were needed in the south to deal with instability in the Caucasus. And Ukraine was concerned that the treaty limits would prevent it from matching a Russian build-up on its borders.
They both got much of what they wanted in the proposed Flank Agreement that has taken two years to negotiate and must now be formally approved by 30 signatory states.
So far, only 18 countries have given their endorsement -- mostly NATO and Central Europeans.
None of the eight former Soviet republics has -- Russia has not, neither has Ukraine, nor Moldova, nor Armenia, Azerbaijan or Georgia. Belarus and Kazakhstan are also among the states that still have to meet the May 15 deadline.
The United States made its first move toward ratification Tuesday at a hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
U.S. officials from the Departments of State and Defense argued that once the U.S. Senate has ratified the CFE changes, Belarus, Kazakhstan and others will follow.
But senators on the panel questioned this reasoning, saying the concerns of Ukraine and the Caucasus countries ought to be met before ratification, not afterwards.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) noted that the Flank Agreement had what she called "soft edges" and that provisions on Russia's rights need clarification.
The agreement recognizes that Russia has the right to use a provision for "temporary deployment" to build up forces.
Critics say this could be construed to legitimize Russia's quest to maintain a long term military presence in some former Soviet republics.
But a State Department official told RFE/RL that the provision on temporary deployment was initially proposed by NATO at the insistence of Norway and Turkey who were concerned about a potential build-up of Russia's military forces. He said it was unlikely to be changed.
Another controversial provision in the Flank Agreement would allow Russia to negotiate with other parties to obtain their unused equipment quotas with their consent.
U.S. officials at the hearing emphasized repeatedly that the consent must be freely given, not coerced. They said the U.S. has offered to mediate such negotiations with Russia if the smaller states wish it.
Several senators said they were not happy with this provision and might seek to make the treaty language clearer and very specific on Russia's rights.
But in general terms they agreed with the government witnesses -- Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and Security Policy Lynn Davis and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter Slocombe -- that the Flank Agreement retains constraints on Russian forces and everyone else's military and thus contributes to regional stability.
The Flank Agreement does not change total national entitlements for military equipment or the overall military balance in the region.
However, it exempts some areas from the controlled zone, thus allowing Russia and Ukraine to concentrate deployment in some places, as long as they stay within their overall national limits and additional sub-ceilings on some of the exemptions.
For Ukraine, the newly exempt areas are the Odessa Oblast in the south.
Russia initially demanded exemption of its entire southern region, including Chechnya. NATO and the United States rejected that.
Through arduous negotiations in Vienna, the parties decided in principle that Russia's Volgograd and Astrakhan Oblasts in the south will no longer be part of the flank zone, as well as an eastern part of the Rostov Oblast, and a corridor in the Krasnodar Krai. In northern Russia, the Pskov Oblast bordering on the Baltics is to be exempt from the treaty zone.
The Baltic states are not CFE signatories but were consulted by NATO on the CFE changes. One of the witnesses pointed out that limits on military deployment in the Pskov area does not change the relative military weakness of Estonia and Latvia vis-a-vis Russia. But it does, for the first time place limits on the amount of military equipment Russia can place near them.
As an additional safeguard, Russia will be obliged to accept extra inspections to make sure that equipment above the Flank Agreement limits is being withdrawn and destroyed as mandated.
Russia still maintains large military forces in the region that exceed CFE treaty limits but has made a commitment to be in full compliance with the treaty and the flank revisions in two years.
Albright is expected in Moscow to seek confirmation of this commitment and look for assurances that the Russian government will formally approve the CFE Flank Agreement by the May 15 deadline. Russian officials say this can be done by executive decree and does not require ratification by the Duma.