Alexei Fenenko

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, August 31, 2016, p. 3

By the beginning of autumn, the government of Germany unexpectedly tried to soften the harsh anti-Russian rhetoric of the last three years. Instead of it, Berlin proposed return to the problems of arms control.


By the beginning of autumn, the government of Germany unexpectedly tried to soften the harsh anti-Russian rhetoric of the last three years. Instead of it, Berlin proposed return to the problems of arms control. At first, on August 26 Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier proposed Russia to start discussion of the new treaty on conventional arms limitation in Europe. Steinmeier indicated the subject of the new treaty as implementation of limitations for new armament systems and limitation of deployment of strike groups (experts already dubbed it “new CFE treaty” according to comparison to the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty). On August 28, Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke for support of his initiative.

It was difficult to say what forced the government of Merkel to change the rhetoric towards Moscow abruptly. Was it fear of the danger of an armed clash between Russia and NATO? It was not understandable why Berlin agreed to station German servicemen on the territories of East European members of the alliance recently: this step increased a risk of a military conflict rather than reduced it. Was it fear of escalation of the conflict in the southeast of Ukraine? But in the last 18 months since signing of Minsk-2 German diplomacy did not propose a single initiative for strengthening of the ceasefire regime. Was it a wish to keep Russia in the regime of dialog? It would be simpler and more logical to do this on the eve of the recent NATO summit in Warsaw.

Moreover, Russia and NATO have had a legal basis for conduction of a dialog on conventional arms for a long time. Back in 1986, NATO and Warsaw Pact countries signed the Stockholm treaty of the OSCE on rules of military activity in Europe. It implemented limits for organization of military exercises and also regulated deployment of groups of armed forces on the line of inter-bloc contact. Even the notorious CFE treaty about which there have been many disputes exits formally still. In 2007, Russia simply implemented an infinite moratorium for observance of CFE and NATO countries did not ratify its adapted Istanbul version of 1999. If Germany and other NATO countries wish a dialog with Moscow it would be more logical to start from discussion of the fate of the Stockholm treaty and (or) CFE.

Even years ago, the Foreign Ministry of Russia proposed NATO countries to start negotiations on signing of the European security treaty (EST). The Russian project implied that OSCE member states would not use force against each other. But in winter of 2010, the UK and Poland blocked this project because of apprehensions that it would undermine American guarantees to NATO allies. Germany did not support it too connecting negotiations on the EST with changing of position of Russia on the conflict in Trans-Dniester Republic. The current “initiative of Steinmeier” is nothing other than an attempt to revive Russian EST project.

It seems that Berlin proposes Russia to start a dialog on conventional arms without any preliminary obligations and this is not incidental. On May 17 of 2017, there will be the 20th jubilee of signing of the Russia-NATO Founding Act. The NATO summits in Hannover and Warsaw that took place last year confirmed that countries of the alliance were not going to prolong it in the former format. Otherwise, NATO will not undertake eve legally weak obligations not to station big military contingents and nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe anymore.

But how can it guarantee that there will be no response actions on the part of Russia? Washington and Brussels evidently hope that Moscow will agree to start an endless dialog about conventional arms. According to its results, NATO and Russia will sign a certain declaration or memorandum on prohibition for stationing of big military contingents and organization of big-scale military exercises. Such agenda of the dialog will be more beneficial for NATO than for Russia.

First, there will always be a group of countries in NATO that do not sign the declaration and preserve the freedom of action (it is sufficient to recall that Baltic republics have not signed the CFE still). On the territories of such countries it will always be possible to station infrastructure and military contingents. Second, in the short term NATO evidently will not station big military contingents in Eastern Europe. The task of the alliance is creation of logistic and infrastructure for them. On their basis it will be possible to station both groups of armed forces and bases for nuclear weapons later. Third, military strategy of NATO puts emphasis on rapid-response forces and “air power.” In Eastern Europe the alliance may develop airfields and logistic keeping the armed forces outside of this region (for instance, in Germany or Netherlands). In case of a crisis it will always be possible to relocate them to the prepared air bases.

Along with this, Russia will be bound by such agreement. Limitations will be implemented for Russian Armed Forces during stationing of big military contingents near the Western borders including Kaliningrad Region and Baltic Fleet. An agreement with Belarus will become the only opportunity for our country under condition that Belarus is not covered by such limitations. But such option will make stationing of the Russian Armed Forces dependent on the political position of Minsk.

The option “agreements without stringent obligations” is suitable for the US that has been looking for a substitute for the Russia-NATO Founding Act since autumn of 2014. Germany is evidently entrusted a role of intermediary at negotiations with Moscow for achievement of such agreement. Something similar happened in winter of 1997 when Chancellor Helmut Kohl acted as an intermediary at negotiations with Russia during signing of the Founding Act on American rather than on Russian terms. Officials of the Department of State evidently hope that the cabinet of Merkel will play a similar role and only now it will persuade Moscow to give up the Founding Act for the sake of a ghostly dialog.

For Russia it would be the best of all to announce its position in such situation. Russia could replace the Founding Act only with two documents. First: stringent guarantees of neutrality of four countries (Finland, Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia). Second: provision of guarantees of non-stationing of big military contingents and nuclear weapons on the territories of the East European NATO members. It is hardly worth exchanging these strategic goals for vague promises of Berlin to start a dialog about a “new CFE.”