Jean-Christophe Peuch

Jan 7 2008
New York

Russia has unilaterally frozen its commitments under the Conventional
Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty to protest NATO enlargement and what
it claims is foot dragging by alliance members on ratification of an
adapted version of the disarmament pact that was signed in 1999.

The Russian move took effect in mid-December. Since the treaty contains
no provision for suspension, Moscow's actions effectively mark its
withdrawal from the CFE regime. Spain, which held the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe's rotating chairmanship in 2007,
has urged Russia to reconsider its decision.

"The loss of the CFE system of limitations, information and
verification would be detrimental to all and could have security
implications for all of Europe," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel
Angel Moratinos wrote in a statement issued shortly after the Russian
moratorium entered into force. "No steps should be taken that could
undermine the viability of the CFE regime, or put this landmark
regime at risk," Moratinos added, before urging other CFE states to do
"everything they can" to preserve the treaty.

Yet, shortly afterwards, another two former Soviet republics
suggested that they, too, were weighing a possible withdrawal from
the CFE Treaty. Armenia's Defense Minister Mikael Harutyunian hinted
that Yerevan could suspend its commitments under the CFE Treaty
in response to what he described as rival Azerbaijan's continuing
military build-up.

"[We have] made no such decision yet," regional media quoted
Harutyunian as saying on December 14. "But if Azerbaijan does not stop
buying and bringing in large quantities of weapons in contravention of
[the CFE Treaty], then Armenia could make such a decision."

Addressing a news conference in Baku the next day, Azerbaijan's
Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov called for a revision of the CFE
Treaty to take new geopolitical realities into account. "Azerbaijan
has specific problems connected to the CFE Treaty because of the
existence of uncontrolled territories where neither Azerbaijani,
nor international representatives can carry out inspections," the
Xeberler-Azerbaycan news agency quoted him as saying on December 15.

Mammadyarov said Baku was particularly concerned by the military
situation in seven Azerbaijani administrative districts that are
occupied by Armenian forces. The Azerbaijani foreign minister alleged
that Armenia was "illegally" storing large quantities of weapons and
ammunition in the occupied territories.

The successive Armenian and Azerbaijani announcements did not come as a
surprise to Finland, which took over the OSCE chairmanship on January
1. OSCE officials in early December told EurasiaNet that Helsinki was
worried that either one of the two South Caucasus states, or both,
might withdraw from the CFE Treaty in 2008.

In his first public statement as OSCE chairman-in-office, Finnish
Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva said he believed 2008 would be
"characterized by many uncertainties." Among issues he said he expected
to be "prominent" during Finland's chairmanship, Kanerva listed the
post-Soviet protracted conflicts, and the fate of the CFE Treaty.

Yerevan and Baku, which remain formally at war over Azerbaijan's
Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, have long been blaming each other for
allegedly exceeding their respective CFE quotas.

Speaking at the annual OSCE Ministerial Council in Madrid on November
29, Armenia's Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian accused Azerbaijan
of "blatantly and unapologetically" violating its holdings of
treaty-limited equipment in excess of CFE ceilings.

Addressing that same forum the next day, Mammadyarov returned the
charge. He said the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition he claimed
Armenia had been accumulating in the occupied territories "exceeded
by far all possible quotas."

Baku and Yerevan have long been suspected of concealing forces above
CFE limits.

In 1998, a report commissioned by the United States stated that
neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan was in compliance with its CFE treaty
obligations. However, the report concluded that the compliance issues
were not "militarily significant."

But the situation may be different now. Baku's defense spending has
been growing steadily since 2004 -- an increase made possible by
its soaring oil revenues. [For background see the Eurasia Insight
archive]. Regional defense experts put Azerbaijan's military spending
per capita at more than $100 a year, compared to $70 in Armenia.

In a report released last November, the Brussels-based International
Crisis Group (ICG) think tank said that, in addition to some 20 combat
aircraft, Azerbaijan purchased at least 12 multi-launch rocket systems
and dozens of artillery systems, anti-tank guns, and T-72 battle tanks
between 2004 and 2006. The United Nations Register of Conventional
Arms shows that these items were purchased from Ukraine, Belarus,
and Georgia.

Armenia has not declared any new acquisitions to the UN Register
since 2005, when it reported purchasing 10 Russian-made Su-25 combat
aircraft from Slovakia the year before.

Officially, Baku's military budget rose to $1.1 billion in 2007,
whereas Yerevan's defense spending reached $280 million. President
Ilham Aliyev once boasted that Azerbaijan's military budget would
total more than Armenia's overall public spending, and in a nationwide
address December 31, he vowed to continue modernizing Baku's armed
forces. Aliyev revealed that the country's 2008 defense budget would
amount to no less than $1.2 billion.

Although the ICG report says that Armenia's defense spending and
declared acquisitions "do not compare" with those of Azerbaijan, it
notes that Yerevan is benefiting from Russia's military assistance
within, or beyond the framework of the Collective Security Treaty

Azerbaijan maintains that part of the military equipment that Russia
recently withdrew from Georgia was transferred illegally to Armenia.

Yerevan and Moscow have both rejected Baku's claims.

Even though it remains unclear whether Armenia and Azerbaijan will
follow Moscow's example and withdraw from the CFE Treaty, the fact
is that Russia has set a dangerous precedent.

Regional political commentators agree that the CFE Treaty has helped
maintain a military balance between Armenia and Azerbaijan, thus
helping to prevent a resumption of hostilities. They fear that if the
CFE Treaty framework collapses, the Caucasus could become caught in
a new cycle of violence. As both Armenia and Azerbaijan are entering
election years, calls for a review of their respective CFE quotas
are likely to increase.

Editor's Note: Jean-Christophe Peuch is a Vienna-based freelance
correspondent, who specializes in Caucasus- and Central Asia-related

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress