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Russia keeps messing with West on arms deals


If there's one thing in foreign policy that Russia is consistent about, it's disregard for international agreements.

For years, Russia has found numerous ways to violate international treaties, including those related to arms control, and these violations seem to be a norm for Moscow.

Over the past decade, perhaps, the most outrageous move to this end was their unjustified withdrawal in 2015 from the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe.

Notorious masterminds of hybrid warfare techniques, Russia thus expanded their hybrid aggression toward the entire Europe.  

Mulling response and trying to predict Russia's further steps after the internationally unrecognized annexation attempt in Crimea and the invasion of the Ukrainian Donbas, as well as the subsequent withdrawal from the said deal, the EU for the first time raised the issue of setting up its own, united armed forces, which would be tasked with deterring a military crisis or warn member states against becoming hostile toward each other in today's turbulent realities.

Then came the turn of the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, perhaps the most important international agreement of the late 1980s. It turned out the deal was bound to ultimately be terminated due to gross violations on Russia's part.

In a statement released in February 2019, NATO said "Russia has developed and fielded a missile system, the 9M729, which violates the INF Treaty, and poses significant risks to Euro-Atlantic security."

The START (New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) now has every chance of being severed as well, unless the Russians agree to create an effective mechanism for monitoring and verifying their nuclear arsenals.

This is unlikely to happen though as such monitoring will most probably reveal their banned developments, which will in turn yield liability in line with international law.

In 2018, Russian agents were accused of using the novichok nerve agent in an attempt on the life of spy turncoat Sergey Skripal. A similar substance may have been used to poison Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny in August 2020. Long before these two incidents, the U.S. already suspected that Russia had not completely destroyed its chemical weapons, thus violating the ban agreed in 1997, as per the European Parliament's think tank.

Next, the existence of the Open Skies Treaty and the Vienna Document are put in limbo.

U.S. has long had long-standing concerns with unjustified Russian restrictions barring Open Skies Treaty reconnaissance flights over Chechnya, the Kaliningrad exclave, and Russia's border with the separatist Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia – thus preventing observers from gathering more evidence of the full dependence of these territories from Moscow.

Russia's refusal to provide data on the location of its troops in certain regions is also in breach of the Vienna Document. In addition, Russia is suspected of under-reporting the number of troops participating in large-scale military drills such as ZAPAD-2017, all to avoid the need to invite international observers, as required by the Vienna Document.

Also, in 2019, U.S. military intelligence claimed that Russia may have carried out nuclear tests, which are prohibited by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Many things changed in the political arena over the last decade and Russia can't withdraw from any treaty it wishes without certain repercussions.

After their unilateral exit from the Treaty on Conventional Arms in Europe, the Russians faced yet another surge of negative attitudes worldwide. Besides, in its move to breach the deal, the Kremlin portrayed itself as a threat to Europe, pursuing such an aggressive stance, including through continuing its military incursion in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region.

Now, having learned from own mistakes of 2015, Russians employ a different strategy: they provoke other participant countries. Russia is well aware of how responsible Western powers are in complying with their obligations undertaken within the framework of international agreements, which in turn allows Russia to frustrate other signatories even more by consistently violating deals without actually withdrawing.

By doing so, Russians keep provoking the United States and Europe to take the first step to sever treaties that Moscow sees burdensome. Russians no longer want to be doused in mud as much as they were back in 2015. After all, now a similar stunt could lead to another package of sanctions – something the Russian economy, struck by coronacrisis and low mineral prices, would not want for certain.

So it was the United States that suspended its obligations under the INF Treaty in response to Russia’s material breach. However, as long as Russia failed to honour its obligations under the deal, the Bloc said Moscow bears "sole responsibility for the end of the Treaty."

The United States also pioneered the withdrawal from the Open Skies deal, apparently not willing to cooperate with the defiant Moscow which had been exploiting the Treaty for malicious purposes, including for aiming high-precision weapons at strategic facilities in the U.S. and Europe.

Russia's stance on arms control agreements is rather showing, which should push western decision-makers to revise their approaches to maintaining business as usual relations with Russia, let alone appease Moscow on any aggressive moves it makes, including against its neighbours.

Any new attempts to achieve a "restart" or "reboot" in relations with Russia will be doomed to failure – this should become a tenet for leaders on both sides of the Atlantic.

After all, history sometimes allows countries to learn from their mistakes, but only if their governments are willing to see beyond tactical gains, fleeting political dividends, and elaborate bribes in the form of lucrative energy contracts and the like.

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