With Russia’s parliament set to rubber stamp a bill rejecting an arms treaty signed a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is Europe on the verge of a new Cold War?
Russia is just one rubber stamp vote away from formally leaving a key Cold War-era security deal designed to de-escalate potential east-west conflicts by drawing down troop numbers and stocks of conventional weapons.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, will consider Russia’s pull-out on Wednesday, 24 May, more than a week after the Duma approved the legislation.
State Duma speaker Leonid Slutsky said on Tuesday the treaty “had only existed on paper”.
President Vladimir Putin introduced a draft bill on 10 May “denouncing” the Treaty of Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which was signed in Paris in November 1990 by 34 representatives of NATO states and members of the Warsaw Pact, and ratified two years later.
So, what is the significance of the move by Moscow and what implications does it have for European security?
Euronews asked three experts for their views:
Signed a year after the fall of the Berlin wall, the CFE treaty laid out a roadmap for arms reduction at a time when Cold War hostilities were thawing. It stipulated how many troops and weapons could be held, where and for how long.
Three decades on, the security situation on the ground and the political climate are both very different.
How many weapons?
“The CFE contained very clear obligations regarding the equipment that each state could stockpile, the balance of conventional forces, and it also allowed for inspections,” said Marcin Zaborowski, a security policy specialist at GLOBSEC, a think-tank committed to strengthening security in Europe.
For how long?
“The text specifies that there is a difference between permanent and non-permanent military equipment,” explains Bruno Lété. “For example, Russia denounced NATO for trying to establish military bases in Romania and Bulgaria in 2007.
“The geographical aspect of the treaty has a lot to do with Central and Eastern Europe,” says Bruno Lété. “The most vulnerable areas are the Baltic States, the Black Sea and the Caucasus. These are the three geographical areas of tension where Russia and the United States have always accused each other of not respecting the CFE Treaty.
“Russia has been in non-compliance with the treaty since the late 1990s”.
Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty has been gradual. “Russia did not comply with the treaty’s obligations almost immediately,” explains Marcin Zaborowski. “Already in the 1990s, Russia set up military bases in Georgia and Moldova and refused to withdraw the troops stationed there, violating the provisions of the treaty.
Dmitry Medvedev, vice-president of the Russian government, welcomed the Duma’s decision. “Finally, the Duma has renounced the CFE Treaty. This document has been irrelevant to us since 2007,” he wrote on his Telegram account, adding that Russia will “maximise the production of weapons, special military equipment and means of destruction.
The reason why Russia suspended negotiations in 2007 was due to the US plan to position military bases in Bulgaria and Romania. “The US had made it clear that these bases would not be permanent. They were temporary. And the terms of the CFE Treaty allow for this. However, Russia accused the US of wanting to make these bases permanent,” explains Bruno Lété.
This is one of the reasons why Russia accuses NATO of having pushed it to abandon the treaty. “Russia had given NATO countries a list of conditions to rectify the treaty. But the conditions Russia offered to NATO countries were simply unacceptable. Basically, these conditions would have endangered the defence of NATO member states,” concludes the expert.
In 2015, Russia stopped the exchange of military information with the other signatories of the treaty, as well as inspections.
A “symbolic” gesture
According to the experts, the Russian decision is a symbolic gesture with few concrete consequences. “Withdrawing officially from the CFE Treaty is only a formality,” said Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Chatham House.
“It is only a show. In reality, it has no impact. Russia stopped following the treaty in 2007 and stopped inspections in 2015.”
A practical point of view
According to Bruno Lété, there is nothing to worry about: “If you look at the amount of heavy equipment that Russia currently has, it is well below the limits set by the treaty. “Because of the war in Ukraine, Russia is losing more heavy equipment every day. So from a practical point of view, the impact of the withdrawal is zero. I see it rather as a weak political attempt by Russia to put pressure on the West,” the researcher comments.
According to Zaborowski, Vladimir Putin is trying to send a clear message to the West. “He is telling us in a way that the Cold War is back. I will treat you as my enemies’. He wants to tell us that our help to Ukraine is not acceptable to Russia and that means ‘Ukraine is our enemy, so you
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