At midnight on November 7, 2023, the procedure planned under the CFE for Russia’s withdrawal from this agreement was completed. Thus, the international legal document, the operation of which was suspended by our country in 2007, has become history for Russia once and for all.
At the same time, two other legally binding agreements closely associated with the Agreement on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) − the so-called Budapest Agreement of November 3, 1990 on the maximum levels for holdings of conventional armaments and equipment for six member states of the Warsaw Treaty, and the Flank Document of May 31, 1996 − have also lost force for the Russian Federation as well. The first agreement was concluded to determine the levels of conventional arms for each participant of the former Warsaw Treaty, while the second was aimed at bringing a temporary solution to the issue of flank limitations that arose after the Soviet Union had ceased to exist.
The CFE Agreement was signed at the end of the Cold War when the formation of a new architecture for global and European security based on cooperation seemed feasible, and corresponding efforts were made to build it. During that period, major agreements on key disarmament and arms control issues were concluded (such as the INF Treaty, START I and START II, and CWC, and in Europe, in addition to CFE, the Open Skies Treaty and several Vienna Document editions). Not all of them stood the test of time, but they played a stabilising role back then.
Even after an abrupt change in the geopolitical and geostrategic situation, such as the dissolution of the Warsaw Treaty and later the Soviet Union, when Russia had to reduce and reform its Armed Forces while simultaneously combating terrorism, the CFE Agreement provided material security guarantees to it. For example, by including NATO countries, primarily Germany, the CFE Agreement has made the process of reductions mutual rather than unilateral. The aggregate potential of the alliance members at that time was to some extent limited and under control. All of this allowed Russia to more freely deploy its Armed Forces to address the top priority of ensuring domestic security and territorial integrity, and fighting separatism and extremism.
However, these changes led to a situation where certain CFE Agreement provisions, particularly the flank limitations, stopped meeting Russia’s interests. Meanwhile, certain of its “victory” in the Cold War, the United States initiated the expansion of NATO and, as a result, alliance countries began to openly circumvent the group restrictions imposed by the Agreement. Thus, the CFE Agreement, in its original form, has lost connection with reality, and Russia sought to adapt it to the newly arisen circumstances.
The corresponding agreement was signed in 1999, but never came into effect. The United States sought to preserve the original treaty that was more advantageous to it and, if possible, to negotiate further concessions from Russia regarding the withdrawal of troops from post-Soviet states. In fact, they told their allies not to ratify the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty.
The Western participants overestimated their ability to influence Russia and our country’s interest in the CFE Treaty. Given the destructive stance of the United States and its allies towards the Agreement on Adaptation of the CFE Treaty, Russia suspended the treaty’s operation in 2007. This aligned with the Munich speech by President Putin (February 2007), and became one of our country’s first steps to staunchly oppose the hegemony of the collective West and the West-imposed security concept based on arbitrary rules.
By suspending the CFE Treaty, Russia left the door open for a dialogue on ways to restore the viability of conventional arms control in Europe. However, our opponents did not take this opportunity and continued to base their policies on anti-Russian bloc principles rather than cooperation. Given the direct responsibility of NATO countries for fuelling the Ukraine conflict, as well as the accession of Finland to the alliance and the ongoing consideration of a similar application by Sweden, even the formal preservation of the CFE Treaty has become unacceptable from the standpoint of Russia’s core security interests.
Several conclusions can be derived from the long history of the CFE Treaty:
First, the attempts to ensure military security in Europe without considering Russia’s interests will not lead to anything good for the people who initiated them.
Second, clinging to outdated agreements that are not in sync with the new circumstances is a practice that is also doomed to failure and may lead to a collapse of the arms control cooperation mechanisms.
Third, the authorities of NATO member states and client countries have clearly shown their inability to reach and honour agreements. At this point, it is impossible to reach an arms control agreement with them. Only when reality compels them to return to constructive and realistic positions, can a dialogue on these matters be revived as part of the efforts to establish a new European security system that serves the interests of Russia and all other countries that reject Western diktat.
Russia bids farewell to the CFE Treaty without regret and with full conviction that it is doing the right thing. The positive and negative experience gained during its creation and implementation will be taken into account.