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Russian Action On Frozen Conflicts Can Save Pact

Russian Action on "Frozen Conflicts" Can Save Key Security Pact

The United States is committed to helping Russia take necessary steps toward resolving "frozen conflicts" in Georgia and Moldova and thus defusing the Kremlin's threat to suspend the Conventional Forces Europe (CFE) Treaty, one of history's most successful arms control agreements.

In a November 5 briefing to members of Congress, State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs David Kramer said that Russia first must honor its pledge to complete withdrawals of troops and weapons from the two former Soviet republics before western countries would approve changes to the CFE Treaty.

The CFE Treaty, signed in November 1990, is responsible for the elimination of more than 60,000 battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters from NATO and former Warsaw Pact nations, making way for one of the longest periods of sustained peace in Europe's history.

Thanks to CFE, Kramer said, "Openness and transparency regarding all the major armies in Europe have replaced mistrust and lack of information," making the pact "a cornerstone of European security."

But on November 6, the Russian Duma voted unanimously to authorize the Russian government to suspend implementation of the treaty on December 12, the latest action in a series of moves by Moscow in 2007 aimed at expressing displeasure with NATO member states' delays in finalizing an updated version of the agreement, known as the Adapted CFE Treaty, signed in 1999 at the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) summit in Istanbul.

The United States and its NATO allies agree that the current CFE is outdated, Kramer said. But at the same 1999 conference, Russia pledged in the "Istanbul commitments" to vacate two military bases in Moldova's separatist Transnistria region and four bases in Georgia, including a facility in Abkhazia, another of several post-Soviet "frozen conflicts" that perpetuate insecurity and have prevented greater political integration and economic development in the region.

Kramer acknowledged Russia's progress on fulfilling its Istanbul commitments since 1999, but said that the promised withdrawals, intended to respect the OSCE principle that foreign military deployments must be approved by the host government, remain incomplete.

Russian forces have vacated three bases in Georgia, he said, but remain at Gudauta, a facility located within the disputed Abkhazia region, which remains a serious potential regional security flashpoint.

"Georgian officials have made clear that they consider CFE and the Istanbul commitments to have been responsible for the withdrawal of nearly all of Russia's military bases and equipment from Georgian territory," Kramer said.

In Moldova, withdrawals of Russian peacekeepers under a 1992 cease-fire agreement have been stalled since 2004. Moldovan officials have requested that these troops be replaced with an international force, and also are seeking removal of a massive Soviet-era munitions storage depot that is guarded by Russian forces.

"If Russia is prepared to commit to move on its remaining Istanbul commitments, some NATO allies are open to beginning the ratification process while Russia is still in the process of completing them," Kramer said.

The CFE's future and its link to the "frozen conflicts" is expected to figure prominently in an upcoming meeting of OSCE's Ministerial Council, scheduled for November 29-30 in Madrid, Spain.

"We are working to try to bridge what currently divides us," Kramer said. "Russia's threat to suspend implementation of the current CFE Treaty is a matter of serious concern to the United States and to our NATO allies."


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