TALLINN - Russia has cited what it terms a military buildup in the Baltic states among the reasons for its Nov. 7 decision to suspend participation in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. Both the suspension and the accusations have drawn swift criticism from Baltic leaders and commentators.
Speaking to the lower house of Russia's State Duma on the day of its vote to suspend, General Yuri Baluyevsky, chief of staff of the nation's military forces, told lawmakers that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were rapidly building up their military forces.
"The Baltic states have a particular attitude toward the CFE Treaty," the general said. "Guided by the common NATO approach, they do not join the regime of limitations imposed by the treaty and today they remain a so-called gray zone in terms of arms control."
The number of armored vehicles in the Baltic states has increased nearly tenfold since 1999 and they now number 431, Baluyevsky said. He also said that the number of artillery guns larger than 100 mm has tripled to 320.
The Baltic states had not ratified the CFE, which was originally penned in 1990, and revised in 1999, before the countries joined NATO.
Other reasons for Russia's stance on the treaty are complex, and include objections to U.S. plans to base a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Prior to Russia's decision, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves said NATO members must not yield to Russia's extortion tactics, which seek to make other countries responsible for its own parting from the treaty.
The foreign ministers of all three Baltic countries expressed regret over Russia's decision.
"The CFE Treaty is the backbone of security and stability in Europe and preserving and strengthening it is the interest of all European countries," representatives of Lithuania's Foreign Ministry told BNS.
"This worries us a lot, especially considering Russia's obligations to pull its military presence out of Moldova and liquidate Russian military bases on the entire territory of Georgia that were fixed in the 1999 Istanbul summit," the representatives said.
Some observers see the move as a way to pressure NATO into having its new members, like the Baltic countries, ratify the treaty, a process the alliance has been stalling while waiting for Russia to make good on commitments to remove its troops from Georgia and Moldova.
Meanwhile the Baltic press has painted the Russian accusations of a Baltic military buildup as laughable.
"Formally, there are no quantitative limitations on military equipment in our country, but it is foolish to think that the Latvian army's three old-fashioned tanks will create any threats against neighboring Russia or Belarus," commentator Askolds Rodins wrote in Latvia's Diena on Nov. 12.
He also speculated that the real reasons behind the Russian decision had more to do with domestic politics than with military strategy.
"Russia's influential mass media outlets have for years been going on about the 'circle of hostile countries' which is supposedly gathering around the Russian motherland. Suspension of participation in the CFE is a dandy way of strengthening this particular myth," he wrote.