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NATO: Russia Urges Baltic States To Join CFE Treaty

Russia is concerned that the Baltic states' possible membership in NATO will open them up to an unrestricted military buildup of NATO forces. The Baltic states were still under de facto control of the Soviet Union when the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed, limiting arms buildup on the continent. They have yet to sign the treaty as independent states, a lapse that has officials in Moscow nervous. For its part, Lithuania says it will join the treaty in the future but considers the step premature while its NATO status is still unclear.

Prague, 14 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov last month held talks with his Lithuanian counterpart, Linas Linkevicius, to urge that country to sign the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or CFE Treaty.

The CFE Treaty -- signed by 22 members of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact at the 1990 Paris Summit, then amended in 1999 -- aims to create parity in major conventional forces between East and West. It sets limits on a country's buildup of tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, and combat aircraft, and restricts the concentration of a destabilizing military force in Europe.

At the time the treaty was signed, Lithuania was still officially part of the Soviet Union and was denied formal representation at the Paris Summit by Russia, despite the fact that it had already declared independence. Once its independence was officially recognized, Lithuania refused to assume commitments made by the former Soviet Union, and it still has yet to sign the CFE Treaty.

Now, with Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania likely to receive invitations to join NATO at the military alliance's summit in Prague in November, Russia is worried its Baltic neighbors will be open to unprecedented military buildup. With this in mind, Russian officials like Ivanov have become increasingly vocal in calling for the Baltic states to join the CFE Treaty.

Lithuanian Defense Minister Linkevicius told RFE/RL that while he understands Russia's concern, there is no reason for the Baltic states to have signed the treaty before now. "I can add nothing to this topic. There is no doubt that new states have appeared on the map that did not exist before. This is not only Lithuania, but also Latvia and Estonia, which did not exist as subjects [when the treaty was signed] and were not able to predict the future," Linkevicius said.

Linkevicius said Lithuania will join the treaty in the future but that it is not possible to take this step immediately. "For now, the treaty has not been ratified by the countries that have signed it. That's why, technically, new members cannot join it even if they want to. But Lithuania does not reject the possibility and, on the contrary, plans to join the treaty," Linkevicius said.

Linkevicius doubts the treaty will by ratified by any signatory states before NATO's Prague summit this autumn. The defense chief added that his country would sign the treaty once it is clear that doing so will not put its national interests at risk. He gave no other details.

Aleksandr Pikaev is the editor of the "Nuclear Proliferation" journal published by the Carnegie Moscow Center. He said the CFE Treaty is a cornerstone of European security and it is observed by all members, even those that have not ratified it, like Russia. The Russian State Duma has refused to take that step until the Baltic states agree to sign on.

Pikaev said the question of whether the Baltic states join the CFE Treaty is of crucial importance to future relations between Russia and NATO. "The way this problem [of the Baltic states' joining the treaty] is tackled will very much determine future relations between Russia and NATO after the Baltic states join [the alliance], if this happens," Pikaev said.

Pikaev added that if Lithuania is invited to join NATO, the CFE issue may become a problem for both the alliance and Lithuania. "There is a lot of talk inside NATO that there should be no different security zones [for the members of the alliance]. And in reality, an absurd situation could occur when, let's say, Poland is a participant in the treaty but Lithuania is not. That would mean precisely [what NATO is talking about]: The Baltic states will find themselves in a different security zone from other NATO members," Pikaev said.

Raimundas Lopata is the director of the Lithuanian Institute of Foreign Relations. He told RFE/RL he has no doubts Lithuania will sign the CFE Treaty in the future, but that it will not do so at Russia's command. He also suggested that Russian politicians are using the CFE issue to try to meddle in Lithuania's affairs ahead of its likely entry into NATO. "The most important point of concern is the desire of Moscow officials to put its own accents in the context of the treaty. It is very important to point out that Lithuania will join the treaty when it decides to, and will not take this step only because Moscow wants it to. It will sign it because doing so will strengthen its own security," Lopata said.

Lopata admitted that the treaty has a direct bearing on Lithuania's future role in NATO, which has yet to be determined. "There are many unknowns which make it impossible to simply sit down and sign the treaty," Lopata said.