A guest post from Mark Wilcox
Speaking of treaties and agreements governing the Black Sea Fleet, a couple more obscure ones are worth a glance. The first is the Document on confidence- and security-building measures in the naval field in the Black Sea, adopted 25 April 2002 by the Black Sea littoral states. This politically-binding agreement established a voluntary regime of, among other things, information exchanges, visits to naval bases, annual exercises, and consultations pertaining to naval forces and operations in the Black Sea. Russia’s recent conduct in Crimea appear to be inconsistent with a couple of provisions, albeit voluntary ones, of this agreement. The Preamble, point (4), for example, reiterates that the parties to the agreement are “Determined strictly to abide in their relations by the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter regarding, inter alia, the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders of states.” Further, according to Section I, Cooperation in the Naval Field, point (12.10): “To improve further their mutual relations in the interest of strengthening the process of confidence- and security-building in the Black Sea, the Participating States will, on a voluntary basis and as appropriate, promote and facilitate, inter alia…avoiding actions which may be seen as threatening, posing risk or be hazardous for the ships or personnel of the other Participating States or hamper their activities.” The well-documented positioning of a Russian naval vessel to block the movement of two Ukrainian vessels from their mooring would seem to be inconsistent with this provision of the agreement.
On an even more wonkish note (yes, I am an arms control wonk), the Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine on Cooperation in Carrying Out Inspection Measures in Places of the Stationing of Military Formations of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation on the Territory of Ukraine Under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe of 19 November 1990, the Vienna Document 1999 on the Negotiations of Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in Europe, and the Treaty on Open Skies of 24 March 1992 – that’s a mouthful – contains provisions for notification between Russia and Ukraine and cooperation in facilitating inspections under the three aforementioned agreements (bearing in mind, as specifically noted in the agreement, Russia’s suspension in 2007 of participation in the CFE Treaty). Why is this agreement relevant in the current situation? On 3 March, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that the United States and France would conduct observation flights under the Open Skies Treaty over the territory of the Russian Federation during the period 3-8 March 2014. Although these overflights are not slated to cover Ukraine, it’s not inconceivable that this agreement between Russia and Ukraine might be tested should the United States or another state declare, for example, an inspection or evaluation visit under the terms of the Vienna Document 2011 (formerly 1999) to check on military activities in either Russia or Crimea. The Russians should be well aware of this possibility, having used inspections under the CFE Treaty and the Vienna Document to poke around NATO installations and deployed forces during the air campaign against Yugoslavia in 1999. It bears mention that Russia did provide the required notification to other states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of the large-scale unannounced exercise that concluded on 3 March (although the United States raised questions about the notification and the exercise as early as 27 February.
While none of these treaties and agreements seems to have constrained Putin’s behavior vis-à-vis Ukraine, they nonetheless warrant our attention if for no other reason than Moscow’s own routine and rather dogmatic invocation of international legal principles when they see fit.