Russia’s decision to withdraw from a major treaty limiting military forces in Europe will not affect the near-completed process of withdrawal of Russian bases from Georgia, observers in Tbilisi say.
President Putin signed a decree suspending Russia’s participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and in related agreements, the Kremlin’s press office reported on July 14.
The decree, which was posted on the Russian leader’s web site, says “exceptional circumstances, which have an effect on the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures” prompted the decision.
The CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 and entered into force in 1992. It provided for significant cuts in the conventional military arsenals of NATO and former Warsaw Pact states. Since it entered into force, more than 60,000 battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters have been taken out of service.
In 1999 the treaty was amended in line with post-Cold War realities and Russia pledged to pull out its four military bases from Georgia, as well as troops from Moldova.
NATO-member states, however, had delayed ratifying the amended treaty. They said they would do so only after Russia had pulled out its troops from Georgia and Moldova. Moscow maintained there should be no linkage between the two issues.
Russia pulled out troops and military hardware from the Vaziani military base, near Tbilisi in 2001. The military base in Akhalkalaki was handed over to the Georgian side in June 2007 and withdrawal from the base in Batumi is underway and is due to be finalised by the end of 2008. The situation surrounding the base in Gudauta in breakaway Abkhazia is, however, disputed. Russia claims it has pulled out equipment and military hardware from Gudauta. Tbilisi still questions this and insists on regular international monitoring there.
“Russia’s decision will not influence the almost completed process of withdrawal of Russian armament from Georgia… But it will negatively influence on Moldova, because Russia has been refusing to withdraw from this country,” Irakli Menagarishvili, a former Georgian foreign minister, told Civil.Ge on July 14.
Menagarishvili, who now heads a think-tank, Georgian Council on Foreign Relations, however, warned that there would be negative implications in the long term, especially in the wider South Caucasus.
“Destroying arms control measures – and it seems to be Russia’s goal – will further complicate processes in the region,” he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said on July 14 that the suspension of its participation in the treaty, meant Moscow would also stop providing information on and stop allowing inspections of its heavy weapons. It also said that Moscow would decide unilaterally on how many tanks or aircraft to deploy.
Salome Zourabichvili, a former Georgian foreign minister, who now leads the opposition Georgia’s Way party, said Russia’s decision would have negative implications in respect of the Gudauta military base.
Russia’s decision has raised much international concern.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai described the move as "a step in the wrong direction." The OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, said it was “a matter of high concern.”