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July 24, 2007

Who needs the CFE treaty
Russia recently decided to suspend its participation in a key arms control agreement with NATO. It has stopped implementing the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) not because of the West's refusal to ratify the updated 1999 version, but because it has become a burden for both Russia and NATO.

After Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a relevant decree on June 12, Russian policymakers, as well as military and political experts, showered the world with explanations for what had prompted him to make this decision. To sum up their arguments, Russia is displeased with the West for four major reasons:

First, the West failed to ratify the updated treaty at an early date, as the sides had agreed. Second, in its eastward expansion, NATO has considerably surpassed the treaty's limitations on the number of arms. "NATO has three to four times more conventional weapons than Russia. At the military academy we were told that this is the level of superiority that is required for an attack," warns military expert Viktor Litovkin.

Third, the United States is going to deploy substantial combat forces at bases in Bulgaria and Romania in violation of the treaty. Finally, Latvia, Lithuania and
Estonia have not yet acceded to the treaty, although this was one of Russia's terms for their admission into NATO.

In turn, NATO explains its reluctance to ratify the treaty's updated version by the fact that Russia has not withdrawn its troops from Georgia and Transdnestr, in violation of the Istanbul agreements.

"Russia's troop withdrawal is not legally linked with the Istanbul agreements. These are Russia's bilateral issues with Moldova and Georgia," explained Director of the Strategic Analysis Institute Sergei Oznobishchev at a round table discussion at RIA Novosti on the future of the CFE treaty.

Anton Mazur, head of the conventional arms control section of the security and disarmament department at the Russian Foreign Ministry, believes that this demand is no more than an excuse for not ratifying the updated treaty: "The reasons for this are primarily political. The United States is using the CFE treaty as a kind of lever to help it reach its geopolitical goals."

Mazur believes that its primary goal is to oust Russia from its former-Soviet sphere of influence. "The United States is reluctant to ratify the updated treaty for a military reason as well. It calls for a higher level of information exchange. When the Americans had to move troops and equipment through their European bases before the mission in Iraq, they realized that the adapted treaty was a pain in the neck.

This is why they didn't want to ratify it," Mazur said.

Russia's decision is not likely to persuade NATO members to ratify the adapted treaty without further delay. Similarly the United States will not give up its intention to deploy components of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic.

But the West is not going to mount a military attack on Russia. Even Russian experts do not believe this. "Nobody is threatening us with war, nor is anyone trying to dictate to us by force of arms. The biggest threat Russia faces is its infant democracy, weak democratic institutes. The external menace is minimal, except for such global threats as terrorism and nuclear arms proliferation," Oznobishchev believes.

NATO has been concentrating on countering these global dangers. Recently, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted that global terrorism was the No. 1 threat, and many countries, including Russia, the United States, Indonesia, Spain and Turkey had already had to deal with it. He said the second global menace was the spread of weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies, while the emergence of rogue states, primarily Iraq and Afghanistan, was the third danger. To sum up, all threats to NATO are outside Europe, and hence Europe, Russia included, should do everything it can to protect itself against these external dangers.

Therefore, when Putin offered Bush to use the Gabala radar instead of building facilities in the Czech Republic, the U.S. president said it would be best to use both. Scheffer saw the offer to use the Gabala radar as evidence that Russia was also thinking of Iran as a threat. He said that 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland do not pose a threat to Russia, with its advanced missile technologies.

Moreover, it is an open secret that there are radars in Europe, for instance the one in the Latvian village of Audrini, that can monitor Russian territory as far as the Urals.

This logic explains why the Russian moratorium on its participation in the CFE treaty has perplexed the West. Russia agrees that international terrorism and Iran's nuclear ambitions pose real threats.

Oznobishchev explained why Russia did not want to go further and view Iran as a potential enemy: "[Russia's] special relations with Iran are based on the subjective attitudes of our politicians. We have been used to thinking of Iran as a friend since Soviet times. This is why we are traditionally opposed to any military solution to the Iranian nuclear problem. But in reality, Iran is an even bigger threat to Russia than to the United States, if only because it is close to our border. Iran should be viewed in the context of nuclear terrorism and the threat of proliferation of missile technologies. The large numbers of Arab mercenaries in Chechnya should have taught us to look for real threats."

Alexander Sharavin, director of the Institute of Military and Political Analysis, named one more reason behind Russia's cooperation with the "rogue states": "The interests of major Russian financial and industrial circles play an important role in this respect. Some of them are interested in selling large amounts of weapons to these countries. This is why Russia continues to maintain relations with Iran and some Arab nations. They say in the West that national interests are those of big business. But when it comes to geopolitics, these interests do not always coincide."

The situation appears to be ambiguous - on the one hand, Russia recognizes the threats of the Iranian nuclear program and global terrorism, but on the other, it is not very enthusiastic about defending itself against them for fear of upsetting its potential partners in the countries where these threats are emanating from.

Russia's moratorium on and potential withdrawal from the CFE treaty will allow Moscow to increase the number of conventional arms it has and to deploy more troops in the south and northwest of the country.

On the one hand, this would help the cause of struggle against international terrorism, but on the other, Russia would receive another lever for exerting pressure on those former Soviet republics that have sided with the West. According to a Fonitel public opinion poll carried out on July 12-13, 52.3% of Lithuanians expected Russia to launch an act of aggression after it suspended its participation in the CFE treaty.

By RIA Novosti commentator Nargiz Asadova

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