Conference of the States Parties of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe: Withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Treaty

Desks at Hofburg Congress Center's (OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev)

Conference of the States Parties of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe: Withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Treaty

As delivered by Assistant Secretary,
Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance Mallory Stewart
Vienna, June 29, 2023

Distinguished delegates,

We are here today with the singular purpose of discussing questions related to the Russian Federation’s decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE).  In light of the alleged narratives and purported justifications that we have just heard from Russia, I think we should clarify the situation as we understand it:

  • The CFE is a landmark agreement that has provided predictability through cooperative transparency and trust-building.  It has played a crucial role in preventing escalation of conflicts and promoting stability in Europe after the end of the Cold War. Despite the listing of recent examples of supposed actions justifying Russia’s non-performance, Russia admits that it ceased to perform under the Treaty years ago.
  • In 2007, Russia suspended its implementation of the CFE Treaty without a valid legal basis; in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and has continued to base forces without Georgia’s consent at facilities in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; in 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine and purported to “annex” Crimea; and in 2022, Russia expanded its illegal and inhumane war against Ukraine into a full-scale invasion.  
  • Although Russia has not implemented the treaty for many many years, its move to withdraw signals a further effort by Moscow to undermine decades of progress made towards building stability, military transparency, and cooperative approaches to security in Europe.

We recognize that Russia’s decision to withdraw from the CFE is of course only the latest in a series of irresponsible, provocative actions taken by the Kremlin to undermine Europe’s security.  But Russia’s justifications for this decision are based on falsehoods designed to shift the blame away from Russia and its own blatant aggression.  Russian arguments that attempt to justify withdrawal with reference to circumstances in Ukraine or to Finnish and Swedish accession to NATO are not credible.  Russia alone is entirely to blame for the conflict in Ukraine, which directly led to the decisions of Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership.  

Russia also seeks to divert blame by highlighting that the 1999 Agreement on CFE Adaptation never entered into force.  Russia bears responsibility for that as well.  Russia walked away from its 1999 Istanbul Summit commitments to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova, which was an agreed element of CFE adaptation.  Russian forces remain on the territory of its neighbors without their consent even today.  

After Russia announced its purported CFE “suspension” in 2007, NATO Allies suggested a cooperative parallel effort on ratification and withdrawal of Russian forces.  Russia refused.  Russia alone is responsible for the fact that the Adapted CFE did not enter into force.  Despite Russia’s actions, the Euro-Atlantic community of prosperous and democratic nations are united, and our resolve is stronger than ever.  Over the past months, many Euro-Atlantic states have increased our level of transparency and cooperation with one another to unprecedented levels, in contrast with Russia’s disinformation, destabilizing actions, and disregard for arms control or  cooperative approaches to security.  

The Kremlin’s decision in February 2022, to turn even further away from peaceful coexistence with its neighbors and launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, has severely damaged the credibility and international reputation of the Russian Federation.  We urge Russia to use the remaining time between now and the effective date of its withdrawal from the CFE to change course – to end its war against Ukraine, reconsider its decision to withdraw from CFE, and engage in a constructive conversation with other States Parties on identifying a way to begin to rebuild trust and security in Europe.  As the U.S. National Security Advisor (NSA) Jake Sullivan recently noted, the United States has stated its willingness to engage in bilateral arms control negotiations with Russia without preconditions, although without preconditions does not mean without accountability. 

Arms control remains an essential tool for stability and for preventing the escalation of conflicts, reducing the risk of accidental or unintended use of weapons, and promoting international peace and security.  However, Russia has violated many of its arms control obligations over the past decade, not to mention the UN Charter in its brutal further invasion of Ukraine.  Prior to its suspension of the CFE, Russia also unlawfully suspended its implementation of the New START Treaty that places limits on the most destructive weapons in our arsenals.  Of course it should be of no surprise to anyone that Russia also blames that unjustified decision on the United States. 

To be clear, Russia’s behavior is the key factor creating today’s crisis in European security, and Russia’s actions have had global consequences well beyond the military sphere, as we have seen the rapid rise in food insecurity and other economic impacts.  

This is not how responsible global leaders behave.  As the President, Secretary Blinken, and National Security Advisor Sullivan have said, the United States is committed to working constructively to manage risks and competition in furtherance of our collective security and of global stability.  We will always welcome constructive dialogue with willing partners.  

The United States and our Allies remain committed to effective conventional arms control as an essential element of the Euro-Atlantic security architecture.  That architecture must take into account the prevailing security environment and the security of all Allies and partners.  We reiterate our full commitment to promoting stability, reducing military risk, and building trust and confidence with all CFE States Parties – including Russia, if and when the Kremlin decides to cease its aggressive behavior toward its neighbors and instead embrace global security and peaceful relations with other sovereign states. 

Russia will not divide NATO; Russia will not destroy the OSCE.  The Helsinki Final Act will stand.  For Russia, the way forward, the way out of the geopolitical box in which it has senselessly trapped itself is to end its war of aggression, stop the tragic and unnecessary killing of tens of thousands of people, uphold its international obligations and legal commitments, and work in mutually advantageous partnership to advance the entire Euro-Atlantic security architecture.  The choice for Russia is clear – and it is Russia’s decision to make, and Russia’s alone.