America offers arms concession to Moscow

Deal allows flexibility in the Caucasus

Russia and the US have agreed new limits for conventional weaponry in the volatile regions on the flanks of the former Soviet Union, writes Christopher Bellamy. A deal would end a long-running East-West row over arms control.

But other signatories to the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty have yet to agree. Negotiations to end the impasse on amendments to the treaty, and especially the critical issue of the flanks, continued until early yesterday morning in Vienna.

The CFE Treaty, which has led to the destruction of 50,000 major weapons systems - tanks, artillery, armoured fighting vehicles, combat aircraft and helicopters - was signed between Nato and the Warsaw Pact. Soon afterwards the latter disintegrated, and so did the Soviet Union. The treaty has led to unprecedented "openness" between the participating states, which regularly send inspection teams to verify compliance.

The new agreement is a concession to the Russians to allow them to deploy extra forces to the troubled Caucasus region. Intensive arms control inspections have been under way to check that all the signatories have reduced their armaments. The new agreement gives Russia an extra three years to meet the limits.

The agreement removes the area of Pskov, in the north, and Volgograd, Krasnodar and Rostov in the south, from the "flanks", thus permitting Russia greater flexibility.

Russia has long maintained that the regional ceilings on the five categories of Treaty Limited Equipment (TLE) no longer reflected the changed strategic situation, particularly in the south. The equipment originally allocated to the Soviet Union's south-western flank was split up between Russia and the new states of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. But then Russia had to move more equipment in to counter the threat from Chechen rebels, putting it in violation of the treaty. The Western signatories treated Russia sympathetically, awaiting the outcome of last month's review.

Russia's deputy Foreign Minister, Georgiy Mamedov, said yesterday that "Russia and the US have made an agreement. We hope to persuade our friends and partners to follow suit. It's about new ceilings for new independent countries to come from the Soviet Union. It is a new reality".

Mr Mamedov said he hoped Norway and Turkey, who had opposed the new ceilings, would now go along with the agreement.

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