Back in 1990, a treaty was signed called the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Its goal was to significantly reduce the number of conventional weaponry in Europe to prevent any kind of build-up that led to the previous two world wars. At the time of the signing of the treaty, the Soviet Union was still in existance and, along with its Warsaw Pact allies, had vastly larger numbers of conventional weaponry (tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, etc) than did the NATO alliance (on European soil).
While nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war are "sexier", the reality on the ground is that conventional forces are much more dangerous to world peace. Tanks, artillery and attack helicopters are used to kill people on a daily basis while a nuclear weapon has not been used in 60 years.
The CFE treaty was designed to equalize the levels of conventional forces, so that both "sides" had the same number of conventional military hardware, referred to as TLE (Treaty Limited Equipment). It was a major step forward.
However the next year the Soviet Union disintegrated into 15 countries and very quickly a number of other changes took place (such as the separation of Czechoslovakia) as well as a few civil wars (including in Moldova) and the signatories to the treaty realized that the CFE needed to be updated. I should mention here that CFE compliance has been outstanding since 1990 and tens of thousands of LTE have been destroyed, which is definitely a step in the right direction for bringing peace to this world.
Starting in 1996, a three year series of negotiations culminated in a meeting in 1999 wherein the now 30 states agreed on what's referred to the "Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty". Although this treaty was agreed upon by all the members, it has never been ratified. This is exactly what Putin was pressuring Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to do yesterday (more on this later).
The Adapted CFE had two main components. The first component was known as the "flank zone" restrictions. Countries such as Turkey (to the south of Russia) and Norway (to the northwest of Russia) were concerned that Russia might use its CFE-legal number of TLE to build up enough forces along one area that it could execute a "flanking" maneuver and invade or attack a neighbor that was had lesser TLE due to treaty limits. After a complicated series of negotiations, different zones were established with differing levels of TLE for each zone, and an agreement was made that everyone could live with.
Russia however chafed against the southern flank zone limits because it fought the first Chechnya War and moved more than the permitted number of TLE into its southern flank zone. Since the 1999 Istanbul Adapted CFE agreements, it has continued to violate its TLE Flank Zone limits but not substantially and this has been more or less accepted by the 29 other CFE treaty members.
The flank and zone implementation were new to the 1999 CFE and set national limits on TLE where as the 1990 CFE did not. Therefore countries like Estonia, which had been previously part of the Soviet Union, were given their own TLE limits.
The second component is the most important, which is referred to as the Final Act since it was an agreed-upon addition to the Adapted CFE. The Final Act is not part of the treaty, and therefore is not binding in the same sense as the treaty, but was considered something of a "promise" and violations of the Final Act are considered a political no-no rather than a breach of a legal agreement.
Although the 1999 Adapted CFE was designed to be ratified as soon as possible, the 18 NATO states (including the United States) have refused to ratify (or attempt to ratify) the treaty because of violations of the Final Act. In essence, the 30 countries have acted like the 1999 Adapted CFE is a valid treaty, in terms of limiting the number of TLE in the various zones and areas, but the treaty has never actually been validated. Therefore, at this time, any country could begin a build-up of conventional forces.
The NATO states have been delaying their ratification of the 1999 Adapted CFE simply because of the Final Act, which again was just an expression of political will and is not part of the legal and binding treaty itself. The violations in this case refer to Russian bases and troops stationed in two countries - the Republic of Georgia and Moldova.
In 1999, the Republic of Georgia was run by Eduard Schevardnadze, who had served as Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, and Russia and Georgia maintained fairly close ties. Georgia even today is heavily reliant on Russia for energy and infrastructure needs and it is their most important trading partner. Georgia had also been ruled by Moscow for more than 200 years and was only an independent country in the elementary sense of the word.
Georgia and Russia hammered out an agreement in the 1999 Istanbul meeting which reads as follows:
1. The Russian Side undertakes to reduce, by no later than 31 December 2000, the levels of its TLE located within the territory of Georgia in such a way that they will not exceed 153 tanks, 241 ACVs and 140 artillery systems.
2. No later than 31 December 2000, the Russian Side will withdraw (dispose of) the TLE located at the Russian military bases at Vaziani and Gudauta and at the repair facilities in Tbilisi.
The Russian military bases at Gudauta and Vaziani will be disbanded and withdrawn by 1 July 2001.
The issue of the utilization, including the joint utilization, of the military facilities and infrastructure of the disbanded Russian military bases remaining at those locations will be resolved within the same time-frame.
- The Georgian Side undertakes to grant to the Russian Side the right to basic temporary deployment of its TLE at facilities of the Russian military bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki.
- The Georgian Side will facilitate the creation of the conditions necessary for reducing and withdrawing the Russian forces. In this connection, the two Sides note the readiness of OSCE participating States to provide financial support for this process.
- During the year 2000 the two Sides will complete negotiations regarding the duration and modalities of the functioning of the Russian military bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki and the Russian military facilities within the territory of Georgia.
In November 2003, a revolution brought pro-Western Mikhail Saakashvili and his cronies into power but the agreements hammered out in 1999 have largely been implemented. The Russians are out of Gadauta and Vaziani and they have turned over the Tbilisi tank base this year. The negotiations listed as #5 are still ongoing today but are close to being finished, and the last news I heard was the Russians will turn over Akhalkalaki by 2007.
The long and short of it is that Russia and Georgia are moving towards an agreement for the complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgian territory, and this certainly should not hinder the NATO countries from signing the 1999 Adapted CFE.
The real obstacle, and the truly dangerous hazard, is Moldova, which requires a brief bit of history to understand:
Even the word "Moldova" is a little confusing, as it refers to several things. Moldova, historically speaking, was a principality of Romanian-speaking peoples under the Ottoman Empire, with varying degrees of self-rule. In 1812, the eastern half of Moldova (along with some territory now in Ukraine) was annexed by Russia and was referred to as "Bessarabia".
The western half of Moldova, called "Moldavia" in English, united with other Romanian-speaking provinces to form the nation of Romania. In 1918, the Bessarabia (E. Moldova) half declared independence and united with the western half as part of the Kingdom of Romania. However in 1940, the Soviets once again took over Bessarabia (or E. Moldova) and eventually turned it into the Moldovan Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR).
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the eastern half of Moldova (MSSR) became the nation referred to today as the "Republic of Moldova" or Moldova for short. The western half remains inside Romania but is referred to as Moldova as well, which is confusing. For the purposes of this article, when I say Moldova I am referring to the Republic of Moldova however.
Since the time of the Ottoman Empire, the majority of the inhabitants of Moldova were ethnic Romanians who spoke Romanian (today referred to as "Moldovan" but it is essentially the same language). Stalin exiled many Romanian/Moldovans from the MSSR and encouraged ethnic Russians to move there, but even today the majority of the people are Romanians/Moldovans.
While the 1991 independence was achieved peacefully, the push to re-unite with Romania caued deep dissention amongst the Russian (and to a lesser extent, Ukrainian) population, which led to a civil war in 1992. In the northeastern corner of Moldova lies the Dniestr River, and the land beyond it is referred to as Transdniestr (also spelled Transnistria).
The majority of Moldova is ethnically Romanian but the inhabitants of Transdniestr are mostly Russian, with some Ukrainian. Fearing that they would be united with Romania, the Transdniestr ethnic Russians protested and this sparked the brief but extremely vicious civil war. Although Transdniestr is very tiny, it managed to "win" that civil war and declared itself the "Transdniestr Republic" (Pridnestrovye in Russian). I should add that Transdniestr managed to "win" that war because the Russians had enormous amounts of military equipment stationed there, which they permitted the Transdniestrians to use.
While no nation officially recognizes the "Transdniestr Republic" (TDR) as an independent country, for all intents and purposes, it is one. And while it has no land border with Russia, it could not survive without Russia. Russia still maintains a military base in Tiraspol (the "capital" of TDR) and Russia is its largest trading partner, importing goods stamped "Made in TDR". The TDR has its own media (including in English, although delayed), its own "government", its own elections, its own militia, its own customs agents, everything. It is a harshly government "country", run by a man named Igor Smirnof, who uses a company called "Sheriff" to create a mafia monopoly on all the important aspects of industry.
More than half the manufacturing and heavy industry in Moldova is inside the TDR, and as a result the non-TDR part of Moldova is largely agricultural, rural and exceedingly poor. Over half of the ethnic Moldovans work outside the country and it is one of the most destitute places in Europe.
The TDR is a run by the Russian-backed Sheriff mafia/company, and it has no ethics or moral hang-ups. It is a known nexus for drug trafficking, human trafficking and - in terms of world security, far more dangerous - weapons trafficking. The TDR has sold off an unknown number of Soviet-era weapons systems, including missiles. The TDR also manufactures small arms, which are sold off undetected to fuel wars around the planet. Before the Ukraine changed governments at the end of 2004, the TDR also worked with black marketeers in Ukraine to ship out weapon systems via the Black Sea port at Odessa. This year alone it was discovered that the Kuchma gov't of Ukraine sold ballistic missiles to such countries as China and Iran.
There are even reports that as many as 24 missiles stockpiled in TDR before the break-up of the Soviet Union had nuclear warheads. If so, those warheads are now missing and unaccounted for and nobody knows who might have gotten their hands on them. The mafia running TDR has no scruples and would sell them to the highest bidder.
The TDR is a black hole where anything goes and while Moldova, the OSCE (and now Ukraine) have put pressure on the TDR to unite with Moldova, even offering it autonomy, it has steadfastly refused. And it can do this precisely because of the Russian military presence and backing of its "government".
In essence, it is this tiny corner of Europe, mostly unknown and forgotten by the rest of the world, that is the major hold-up for the ratification of one of the most important treaties of our time. It is the activities in this small slice of Europe that pose one of the gravest dangers to peace and stability on the continent, and yet it's mostly forgotten and ignored.
Putin is right - the NATO countries should put the Adapted CFE up for a ratification vote immediately. It won't resolve the Moldova issue, but it will commit the 30 European nations to resist the temptation to build up conventional forces, the exact scenario which led to the past two world wars. It will also put real pressure on Russia to de-escalate its levels of TLE in the North Caucuses as well as keep NATO from overloading in countries like Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey.
So long as this treaty lies moldering in a desk, unenforceable and non-binding, the danger of a conventional war in Europe remains a looming threat. The Adapted CFE will not solve all the problems of course but it is the best existing framework to put the brakes on any future temptations to further militarize Europe.
Again, the ratification of the Adapted CFE won't resolve the issue of Russian troops in Moldova/TDR. But it will provide a platform to resolve that issue in a diplomatic and expedient way. And for the sake of peace in Europe, it needs to be done.