With Russia’s parliament set to rubber-stamp a bill rejecting an arms deal signed a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, is Europe on the brink of a new Cold War?
Russia is just one vote away from formally exiting a key Cold War-era security accord designed to de-escalate potential East-West conflict by drawing down troop numbers and stockpiles of conventional weapons.
The upper house of Russia’s parliament, the Federation Council, will consider Russia’s withdrawal on Wednesday, May 24, more than a week after the Duma approved the legislation.
The speaker of the State Duma, Leonid Slutsky, said on Tuesday that the treaty had “existed only on paper”.
President Vladimir Putin presented a draft bill on May 10 “condemning” the Treaty on 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:
The CFE Treaty, signed a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall, laid out a roadmap for arms reduction at a time when Cold War hostilities were thawing. It determined how many troops and weapons could be kept, where and for how long.
Three decades later, both the security situation on the ground and the political climate are very different.
How many guns?
“The CFE contained very clear obligations regarding the equipment 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.
“The text specifies that there is a difference between permanent and non-permanent military equipment,” explains Bruno Lété. “For example, Russia condemned 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 US have always accused each other of not respecting the CFE Treaty.
“Russia has not complied with the treaty since the late 1990s”.
Russia’s withdrawal from the treaty has been gradual. “Russia did not comply with the treaty obligations almost immediately,” explains Marcin Zaborowski. “Back in the 1990s, Russia established military bases in Georgia and Moldova and refused to withdraw the troops stationed there, in violation of the provisions of the treaty.
Dmitry Medvedev, the 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 “maximize the production of weapons, special military equipment and means of destruction.
The reason Russia broke off the negotiations in 2007 was because of the US plan to place 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 this. But 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 pushing it to abandon the treaty. “Russia had given the NATO countries a list of conditions to correct the treaty. But the conditions that Russia offered the NATO countries were simply unacceptable. Basically, these conditions would have jeopardized the defense of NATO member states,” the expert concludes.
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. “Officially withdrawing from the CFE treaty is just a formality,” said Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Chatham House.
“It’s just a show. In reality it has no impact. Russia stopped complying with 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 far 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 effect of the outlet is zero. I see it rather as a weak political attempt by Russia to put pressure on the West, comments the researcher.
According to Zaborowski, Vladimir Putin is trying to send a clear message to the West. “He’s kind of telling us that the Cold War is back. I’m going to treat you as my enemies.” He wants to tell us that our aid to Ukraine is not acceptable to Russia and that means “Ukraine is our enemy, so you