Compressing the Spring

By Nikolay

On Monday Robert Gates met with President Putin and other officials in Moscow to discuss US plans to deploy the US ABM complex in Europe, and most importantly to offer cooperation on the issue: a potential linking of Russian and US systems and the ability for Russia to initiate inspection checks to the newly-built facilities. These plans were publicly rejected by Russia‘s newly-appointed Minister of Defense Anatoliy Serdyukov and Mr. Ivanov (Russia‘s first-vice-premier). Russia continues to remain skeptical that Iran possesses any type of threat to Russia and to Europe. Similarly, the US, in the face of Secretary of State Rice has called Russia’s concerns over plans to deploy the ABM systems “ludicrous”, the New York Times reported.

In his annual address to parliament, President Putin made it clear that Russia will respond immediately to US plans by withdrawing from the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces Treaty in Europe, which was based on an earlier treaty of 1990 during the dissolution of the Cold War and the Soviet Union. Russia‘s claims are that it is the only nation to have fully ratified the treaty and refuses to continue to fulfill its obligations unless other members (specifically NATO members) ratify it. NATO has declared its surprise over such actions as it believes Russia was never fulfilling its promises under the treaty.

Because of numerous confusions in the press, it is important to go back and determine the realities of the treaties. An adapted copy of both treaties (1990) and (1999) can be found on the Arms Control Association Websites. The New York Times reports that:


The agreement in question, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, known by the initials C.F.E., was signed in 1990 by the N.A.T.O. nations and the nations of the former Warsaw Pact, including Russia. It required the reduction and relocation of much of the main battle equipment then located along the former east-west dividing line, including tanks, artillery pieces, armored vehicles and attack aircraft. It also established an inspection regime.

Under the treaty, more than 50,000 pieces of military equipment were converted or destroyed by 1995. With its initial ambitions largely achieved, it was renegotiated in 1999, adding a requirement that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova, two former Soviet republics where tensions and intrigue with Moscow run high.


The fact of “force withdrawal” remains very controversial. NATO members in 2002 had accepted that Russia fulfilled all of its requirements under the treaty, specifically regarding the fact of withdrawal of TPE (treaty prohibited weapons) from Georgia and Moldova and other territories. Russia claims that its obligations essentially stop here, and a withdrawal of forces is a gesture of goodwill; NATO members claim that Russia made promises to withdraw its troops also. The treaty was originally signed to ensure the collective security of Europe and security from a “blitzkrieg-type” attack when one state would concentrate a large number of weapons on another’s border. Thus, severe caps on TPEs were implemented (specifically tanks, jet fighters, light-armored vehicles, cannons, etc.) Consequently, troop presence would not be an issue to collective security, neither would the US ABM bases (clearly a missile deterrent system).

In addition to the above, Russia’s attempt to withdraw from the treaty is set to completely confuse all negotiations, as the treaty seems to be read differently by both sides. With Russia having ratified it but slow on implementation and NATO members, having not ratified it accusing Russia of slow progress. Even before Russia’s announcement, the Guardian reported that:


The Bush administration has this week been struggling to convince sceptical European partners that the missile shield is a good idea.

In an interview yesterday, Germany’s deputy foreign minister, Gernot Erler, revealed that at least six allies, including Germany, raised doubts about the project at a Nato meeting last week — amid fears of another cold war on European soil.


The CFE treaty is not the first treaty Russia has threatened to withdraw from. Russian officials initially opened up their protests by suggesting likely withdrawal from the 1987 treaty limiting medium-range missiles. It is a paradox that both treaties are virtually outdated, with Russia and US having mostly scrapped their medium-range missiles, while six other countries still possess them. With regard to the CFE treaty, the militarization and force-withdrawals have mostly been achieved already, and Russia remains the beneficiary under the treaty due to its massive territory. While other countries had to scrap their weapons, Russia shifted its TPEs beyond the limit-free Urals in Siberia. Yet the treaties are highly symbolic and are the essential foundations of collective security in the post Cold War period.

The Financial Times reports that, the US was the first country that began breaking such treaties, through its 2001 unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty:


However, Thursday’s decision is strategically important because it signals Russia’s growing readiness to tear up the post-1990 diplomatic order. Moscow believes today’s strong Russia can revisit the deals done in the 1990s by a weak Russia. The Kremlin also argues the US has repeatedly acted unilaterally, including over Iraq and over recent plans for Czech and Polish missile defence bases. If the US can set aside bilateral or multilateral pacts, says Moscow, so can Russia.

These developments take the world into perilous waters. While there is no open ideological conflict between east and west, there are deep differences over democracy and the rule of law. It will be dangerous if these disputes prevent Russia, the European Union and the US co-operating on matters of mutual interest, including energy, the war against terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation.


The US is entitled to look after its own security. But it must accept security is often easier to build in partnership with others than alone. America, not Russia, was the first to pull out of a cold war arms pact when in 2001 it abandoned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Washington’s recent effort to explain its missile defence plans to sceptical European states, including Russia, is long overdue.

Russia is behaving irresponsibly in a diplomatic sense and is severely threatening collective security in Europe. But the US is doing the same, yet indirectly. Analysts have rightly pointed out that withdrawal from both treaties will make Russia‘s position worse: it has barely the right capital to finance development and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles, and to engage in a large-scale rearmament of its European part. These capabilities are dwarfed by 10 times by the US military budget. But clearly Russia has no choice. Its policy of countering NATO’s dominance must start now, at a time when relations are moderately cool. The fact of no ideological difference between the East and the Wets means no serious threat of confrontation will occur. Yet, it is worrisome if Russia and the US scrap their commitments to security in Europe, especially given the experience of the 20th century. We are living in a different world, but relations among countries sour easily, and alliances and counter-alliances form just as fast.

The end goal of its diplomatic game is not to scrap its commitment to European security, but to make the rest of Europe aware that such issues as the ABM deployment if pushed unilaterally by the US without NATO approval could bring instability. Yet, the threats that Russia has made show that it is engaged in almost full-scale bluff, the US knows and understands this. Germany understands this even better. This poker game is very long, and the stakes may rise with every passing day. Unless serious negotiations start soon, Russia will turn its bluff into action. If a treaty withdrawal will occur, there is a marginal prospect of US rearmament in Europe. This would be quite an unfortunate prospect.

Nikolay, Student, Boston U., Business Major, Russian. Interests: International Relations (1930-1945); Russian 20th century History, Capital Markets, Private Equity. He also runs the blog Russia’s True Tales of Terra.

Scroll to top