President Putin has signed a decree suspending Russia's fulfillment of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) and related international agreements. It will withdraw from the CFE 150 days after the signatory countries receive the official notifications, which are most likely already on their way.
The West immediately frowned and expressed its regret over Moscow's moves. The disappointment, I presume, was genuine - it is not too often in diplomatic practice that a group of countries can successfully pull the wool over the eyes of a treaty participant for decades. And when the deceived party finally sees the light, disappointment is natural.
But let us take a brief look back at the treaty's history. The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was signed in 1990 - a year before the breakup of the U.S.S.R. A modified version, taking into account new geopolitical realities, was inked in 1999 in Istanbul, but ratified only by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The Baltics did not join it. Georgia and Moldova refused to ratify it, demanding that Russian troops be pulled out under the Istanbul agreements, which were signed together with the agreement adapting the CFE.
This is the pretext under which NATO countries have been blocking the entry into force of the adapted treaty. Considering that Russian troops have already pulled out of Georgia as stipulated by the Istanbul agreements and Transdnestr only has the minimum force needed to keep peace in that area, the excuse rings hollow. On the other hand, the West has done whatever it pleased over these past decades: it bombed and dismembered Yugoslavia, brought American and NATO bases closer to the Russian borders (in spite of having promised never to do so), armed the Baltic countries (because they do not formally belong to the CFE), grossly violated the UN Charter (in Iraq) and is now proposing to place an American missile defense shield under Russia's nose. One need not be a political expert to get the sense that something is not quite right here.
Nor is this sad conclusion altered by the idea that the CFE is actually a Potemkin treaty, although Europe often loftily refers to it as "the cornerstone of European security." Sergei Karaganov, one of the leading Russian experts on Europe, said: "I think the treaty is destined for the ash heap of history. Well, good riddance." In the view of the deputy director for research of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences, "We will now have our hands free...The concern they are showing is hypocritical. But everybody knows that the treaty was a non-starter and was used to take advantage of Russia's weakness in the 1990s."
Theoretically, the 150-day moratorium granted by Moscow enables Western politicians to review their policy, but there is little chance the treaty will be revived - politics all too often succumbs to inertia. So it looks like the world has forgotten all about the bright future it imagined was in store for it during the heady days of the last century; its optimism, it seems, has faded almost as fast as the millennial fireworks. The fact that the 21st century has failed to live up to the hopes pinned on it is clear. The new generation of politicians has not grown smarter. It is unwilling to take its partners' interests into account and incapable of learning from past mistakes.
What good has come for the European Union from a build-up in the number of European bureaucrats deciding the lives of Europeans? None. They were unable to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the break-up of the U.S.S.R. They did not want to welcome Moscow into the fold by breaking down the Iron Curtain and building in its place a bridge of trust. Instead, they strengthened NATO, gave Russia the unfair CFE Treaty, brought military equipment nearer to Russian borders, allowed American missile facilities to be installed in the Czech Republic and Poland, and so on.
Blinded by its own hubris, Europe missed the most important thing. Now, taking a closer look, it has suddenly discovered that it is facing not a helpless Yeltsin-era Russia, but a Russia of Putin, gathering strength and full of ambition. As a result of major foreign policy blunders, Europe is likely to face very real Russian nuclear missiles, armor and heavy artillery instead of tranquil eastern borders.
It could not have been otherwise. Moscow is within its rights to protect its security as it sees fit. Not because it wants to arm itself once again, but because Condoleezza Rice, Javier Solana and the rest of the American-European political comrades-in-arms have left Russia no other options.
Every world crisis, like every rock slide, is set in motion by a single stone. In the case of Europe, there are three potential stones: missile defense, Kosovo and the CFE. All it will take is for someone to touch just one of them.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.