Russia Allowed Time To Fulfill CFE Treaty

VIENNA -- Russia has agreed to freeze the number of forces currently deployed on its European borders and to meet its obligations under a landmark arms reduction treaty by May 1999, officials have said.


The commitment by Russia, which has been in breach of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe, or CFE, treaty, was made after two weeks of talks in Vienna aimed at settling compliance problems that had arisen after the breakup of the Soviet Union.


Lynn Davis, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for disarmament and security issues, said Saturday the deal was a solution to the changes inside Europe over the past few years and proved that the CFE pact was flexible enough for modifications to be made.


"There have been changes [in Europe] and the new solution has to recognize those changes," Davis said.


Russia had negotiated hard for alterations to the treaty's so-called "flank limitations" -- the amount of weaponry such as tanks, armored personnel carriers and artillery a signatory state is allowed to deploy on its borders.


"The current levels of Russian forces [on flanks] cannot be exceeded. They have been frozen as of May 31st," Davis added.


"[The delegates] have found a resolution to the issue of the flanks so that well into the next century the treaty will continue to provide the basis for stability and security in Europe," Davis said at the end of the CFE review conference.


Delegates also set in motion a series of talks in Vienna to look at ways of modernizing the pact and will present a first report at the annual summit of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, in Lisbon in December.


Russia had been in technical violation of the CFE treaty after acknowledging last year it could not make the arms cuts required of it by the deadline of Nov. 17, 1995 because it feared its defense capability would be weakened.


The most contentious flank areas were Russia's southern region bordering the Caucasus where trouble has flared in Chechnya, and in the north.


"They [the Russians] have a period of three years to reduce the current levels down to the specific levels [set out in the 1990 treaty]," Davis said. An official of the CFE review conference, held under the auspices of the Vienna-based OSCE, said Moscow would have to meet the weapons cuts limits by May 31, 1999. After negotiations that went into the early hours of Saturday morning, delegates allowed Russia to maintain a higher level of forces in flank areas for the next three years, effectively exempting certain zones from the treaty limits.


The deal largely reflected proposals to settle the flank issue put forward by NATO last September to exempt such Russian districts as Volgograd and Astrakhan in the south and Pskov in the north.


Flank areas have been reduced, allowing a greater concentration of armory in a smaller area until 1999.


"The basic rule is the numbers of the treaty will apply to a flank smaller than in the treaty. The numbers of the treaty will apply by May 31st, 1999," the official said.


Russia has agreed to an immediate freeze of its armory in its flank zones, currently at 1,897 battle tanks, 4,397 armored personnel carriers and 2,422 pieces of artillery.


Moscow will have to cut the number by 97 tanks, 697 armored personnel carriers and 22 pieces of artillery by the 1999 deadline.


Officials said all signatory states were satisfied with the agreement, including Turkey, Norway and the Baltic states, which had been concerned that a buildup of Russian forces in the north and south would put their own security at risk.


Russia also made clear it would observe a pledge made by the former Soviet Union to cut treaty-limited weapons east of the Ural mountains by 14,500 pieces.


The commitment was not part of the CFE treaty but officials said Moscow had already met half the target and would attempt to destroy the rest by the year 2000.