The US and NATO leaders are acting to forestall discontent of Russia with plans to include new countries into the organization. US President George Bush spoke about this quite definitely. On the eve of his visit to Prague, he said in the interview for Liberty-Free Europe radio and a group of journalists of East European newspapers, “The key is to change the military strategy of NATO. It starts with understanding that Russia is not our enemy. NATO doesn’t need to be constructed to prevent the Warsaw Pact from invading Europe. After all, the Warsaw Pact doesn’t exist. As a matter of fact, the Warsaw Pact is becoming NATO, slowly but surely. We don’t need that type of mentality. And we’ve got to have a military strategy that addresses the true threats.”

He continued, “I’m going from Prague to St. Petersburg precisely to deliver that message to the Russian people, that, even though NATO will have been expanded on your border, particularly in sensitive areas like the Baltics, you should not fear expansion. You should welcome expansion because you’ve now got a neighborhood that is much more peaceful in which to realize your vast potential. And that’s important for Russia to hear.” NATO Secretary General George Robertson said something like this during his meeting with President Putin. Robertson assured the Russian leader that NATO plans “do not threaten the vital interests of Russia.”

In turn, the Russian President expressed the hope that NATO eastward expansion and inclusion of the former Soviet republics Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia “would not undermine the established system of military security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic region and will not infringe on Russia’s interests.”

Thus, the parties attempted to sooth each other with regard to potential threats, which, according to Vladimir Putin, would be evaluated by “military organizations of Russia during admission of new members to NATO.” How much does NATO really threaten Russia’s interests? What is the reason for concern of the Russian authorities?

To answer these and other questions let us recall the history. The Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty was signed in November 1990. It actually became the cornerstone of security on the continent. The main goal of the initial version of the treaty is limitation of conventional arms in the zone of its effect to 40,000 tanks, 60,000 combat armored vehicles, 40,000 artillery systems, 13,600 warplanes and 4,000 strike helicopters. Due to changing of the situation in the world (liquidation of the Warsaw pact, breakup of the USSR, appearance of new states in Europe) it was necessary to adapt the document to new realities.

Moscow was the initiator of negotiations on modernization of the CFE Treaty. In the course of three-year negotiations (between 1996 and 1999), buildup of the NATO military potential in the most important strategic directions, and first of all, in Central and Eastern Europe, was hindered. Simultaneously, a possibility was provided for preserving of the group of Russian forces in the Caucasus, which existed as of January 1, 1999, with confirmation of the stringent regime of limitations for the flank countries neighboring Russia. The negotiations were crowned with signing of the agreement on adaptation of the CFE Treaty at the OSCE summit in Istanbul on November 19, 1999.

The main goal of the agreement is switching of limitation of the level of armament from inter-bloc to international calculations and obligations. Fulfillment of the adapted CFE treaty will result in significant reduction of the potential of conventional arms of European countries, US, and Canada, powerful from the military standpoint, and their offensive capabilities will be limited. The new aggregate reduction of the national levels of armament of 19 NATO member states will amount to about 4,800 tanks, 4,000 combat armored vehicles, and over 4,000 artillery systems, which corresponds to the armament of approximately ten fully manned divisions of NATO standard.

By the end of 2002 Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia, and by the end of 2003 Poland should lower their territorial and national levels by 595 tanks, 665 combat armored vehicles and 440 artillery systems. Germany will take the same measures (minus 200 tanks), as well as Italy (minus 81 tanks, 167 combat armored vehicles and 137 artillery systems). Of all former Soviet republics, only Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia did not sign the CFE Treaty. In 2002, these countries are going to enter NATO.

According to experts, entrance of the former Soviet Baltic republics into NATO will contribute to formation of a so-called “gray zone,” that is, the Baltic countries will be able to have as many weapons as they wish to. “The alliance is not an enemy to us, but we need to know clearly which potentials surround us and could surround us in the future,” commented Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, Vice President of the Academy of Geopolitical Studies and former Director of the Main Department of International Military Cooperation to the author of the present report. In the past, Ivashov took part in preparation of the Russia-NATO agreement and the adapted CFE Treaty.

Understanding the importance of the problem, on the eve of the NATO summit in Prague the Press published an unofficial opinion of the Russian Foreign Ministry regarding the possible signing of the CFE Treaty by the Baltic republics. It was written that, back in 1999, Slovenia was the first country in the second wave of candidates for entrance into NATO that announced its wish to join the negotiation process regarding signing of the CFE Treaty. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus also made a corresponding statement on September 20. The Lithuanian authorities released a similar statement. The latest statement was released by Estonian authorities on November 18.

Meanwhile, there are problems with the CFE Treaty not only at the level of the Baltic republics. It is known that only Ukraine and Belarus ratified the adapted treaty. In Europe, this process is hindered because NATO member states connect ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty with withdrawal of Russian bases from Moldova and Georgia. The US is discontent with an allegedly excessive presence of arms in Chechnya. Moscow considers such a connection incorrect and calls on the opponents “to take a clear position of principle.” According to the terms of the CFE Treaty adapted in 1999 (unlike the initial version of 1990), the treaty is open for other countries, but normal negotiations about this may begin only 40 days after it comes into effect, which will take place only if all current participants ratify the treaty.

“We are concerned about the policy of double standards pursued by the US and some other countries with regard to Russia. After the CFE Treaty consultations in Vienna, the US, through official spokesperson for the Department of State Richard Boucher, again accused Russia of non-observance of the current limitations of arms in the so-called flank area including Chechnya. But this is not so. We officially announced that as of July 1, 2002, the quantity of arms there did not exceed the levels set by the adapted CFE Treaty: 1,204 battle tanks (by 96 tanks less than the limit), 2,010 combat armored vehicles (the margin is 130 units) and 1,495 artillery systems (the margin is 185 units). Incidentally, all these figures were checked by experts. Such a stance of the US is simply not understandable,” says Makhmut Gareev, General of the Army, President of the Academy of Military Sciences and former Senior Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

What is the way out? According to Gareev, Russia and NATO need to come to agreement before it is too late and to issue a joint address to all newly included member states of NATO recommending them to join the adapted CFE Treaty. In turn, the new NATO members should show restraint in deployment of their own and foreign military contingents in their territories. According to Gareev, simultaneously it is also necessary to begin a broad process of ratification of the CFE Treaty among the countries that signed the treaty initially.

Thus, the NATO summit in Prague did not eliminate the contradictions existing with regard to the limitation of arms in Europe. NATO is expanding. Speaking about security of this process, representatives of the alliance connect ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty with the problems of Chechnya and withdrawal of Russian bases from Transcaucasia and Moldova. Such standards are not acceptable for Moscow. Along with this, Moscow is reducing its forces. Time will show if the West meets these processes halfway.