Wednesday, February 28

Russia’s tricks to avoid international observation of its military maneuvers

Russia prevents observers from attending its large military exercises – such as those now taking place near the borders with Ukraine – and thus violates its international transparency commitments, say various Western diplomats and analysts.

One of these agreements, crucial for reducing tensions in troop movements, is the “Vienna Document”, adopted in 1991 and updated in 2011 within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

This institution, made up of 57 states, is the only one, apart from United Nationsin which Russia, the West and Ukraine sit at the same table, and has some key agreements to promote transparency and thus build trust.

“Vienna Document”

Since unexpected maneuvers or a large build-up of troops often alarm other states, the “Vienna Document” establishes the obligation to report military movements and accept observers when certain limits are exceeded.

Thus, maneuvers with more than 9,000 soldiers must be notified and in those with more than 13,000 it is even mandatory for observers from other OSCE countries to participate.

As various diplomatic sources have explained, Russia always notifies that its troop deployments are below 13,000 soldiers, although in reality the number is much higher, thus avoiding having to accept the presence of observers.

Russian tricks

To do this, tricks have been used – one source calls them “manipulations” – such as dividing the maneuvers between different operational commands -so that it does not seem like a single exercise- or reducing the number of troops that are defined as combat troops so as never to exceed that threshold. of 13,000 troops.

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Western concerns and those of Russia’s neighbors about the size and purpose of the current troop buildup on Ukraine’s border are a consequence of Russia’s lack of transparency about its military activities, diplomatic sources from four countries say, consulted separately. Independent.

In addition, remember that for the incursion into Georgia in 2008 or the conquest of the crimean peninsula in 2014 troops that were already deployed in previous maneuvers were used.

According to him Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI)one of the world reference centers on disarmament issues, Russia, the country with the largest army in Europe, has never reported maneuvers with more than 13,000 troops until now.

“For example, Russia can claim that an activity involving 50,000 soldiers is actually four separate exercises instead of one, and each of them falls below the notification threshold.”exposes.

For this expert, although Russia maintains that it complies with the rules to the letter, it is not consistent with the objective or the spirit of the agreement.

This observation is shared by the disarmament and arms control expert Alexander Graefof Institute for Peace and Security Policy Studies in Hamburg (Germany).

“The question is how such an agreement is organized and implemented, since it depends on the good will of the parties. Russia is not the only one that uses certain legal loopholes in the Vienna Document, but it is true that it would help reduce tension if it allowed those observations now in their maneuvers”Graef explains.

Germany Y France They already asked Russia last April to “commit in good faith” to fulfill its obligations in the OSCE, after organizing that month a massive maneuver near Ukraine, which was not attended by observers either.

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Russia ensures that it is transparent by sometimes inviting some military attaches from embassies in Moscowbut such invitations fall far short of the scope of the mandatory observations envisaged by the “Vienna Document”.

Inspections canceled due to COVID-19

The “Vienna Document” also allows observers to be sent on three inspections per year to any member state, including Russia.

Although Russia usually accepts such missions, latvia last week accused Moscow of canceling a visit by its military to two regions in western Russia due to COVID-19 (Bryansk and Smolensk), where military exercises will be held in mid-February near the border with Belarus.

“Refusing inspection due to covid security protocols is a poor excuse and raises strong suspicions that Russia wants to hide something by not disclosing the actual scope and intent of its military movements as required by the OSCE cooperation framework. “criticized in a statement the Latvian Defense Minister Artis Pabriks.

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