On July 14, President Putin announced that Russia was withdrawing from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. The terms of the Treaty require 150 days notice for withdrawal, and the parties have already met in Vienna (where it was signed in 1990) to discuss differences; a Russian spokesman said they have not closed the door on CFE.
The Negotiation on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) was opened in March, 1989, by foreign ministers, including the new U.S. Secretary of State, James Baker. (Those who like acronyms will note that we might have referred to these as the CAFÉ talks, but despite the whimsical allurewe were, after all, in Viennait was feared such a label would call into question the seriousness and dynamism of the new forum.)
Even during the mandate talks there had been rumblings of independence on the eastern side, fomented by Hungary, and it was obvious that if we wanted to take advantage of the structure and discipline afforded by a bloc-to-bloc negotiation, we would have to move at a much faster pace than we had during MBFR.
We were in the strange position of encouraging Warsaw Pact solidaritybut just long enough to complete the treaty and win the signatures of the individual countries. While the negotiating structure was bloc-to-bloc, each state was making individual commitments relative to its own weapon systems, commitments it would retain in a new Pact-less Europe.
Several months into 1990, our political leaders set a deadline: the CFE treaty was to be signed on November 19, 1990, the same day as the broader Paris Charter of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE).
As if the task of finalizing complex provisions governing thousands upon thousands of tanks, artillery pieces, armored combat vehicles, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters over a matter of months was not overwhelming enough, the treaty and its multiple protocols (ultimately filling 110 single-spaced printed pages) had to be in six different languages.
For the United States, concluding CFE on time was an all-out effort by multiple agencies; during 1990, the U.S. delegation swelled from a few dozen to more than eighty people.
Not-So-Secret Weapon: The Prince
Alexis was also a formidable negotiator. As anyone who has ever worked on an international agreement or even a communiqué knows, one can debate endlessly the nuances of individual words and phrases. CFE, given its topic and number of participants and languages, was debate on steroids. Since each text would be considered equally valid and binding once the treaty was signed, it was vital that the translations accurately reflect the agreed draft (which thankfully was in English). While the delegations whose languages were among the official six cared deeply about their own version of the treaty (that was the one their political masters would scrutinize), most of the negotiating countries were not particularly interested in the other translations, nor did they have professional linguists available. A British translator provided some valuable assistance but for the most part, the burden of ensuring that the translations were accurate was on the Prince.
As the hectic days of 1990 slipped by and we chipped away at the hundreds of remaining substantive issues, the Prince began appraising and dissecting other delegations renditions into Russian, Italian, Spanish, German, and French of the English text approved so far. He managed the process admirably and ran into very few roadblocks. His linguistic skills were impressive, but it was his self-confidence and aristocratic hauteur that tended to cow his interlocutors.
The Prince Meets His Match
We insisted, though, that he continue to lock horns with Salome, sessions that left him morose and exhaustedparticularly since we could not convince him that remaining differences were, indeed, substantive. With the iron-clad date for concluding the mandate looming, he finally pronounced the French translation consistent with the English text; we took his word for it.
(I dont know if Alexis followed Salomes subsequent remarkable career, but he would not have been surprised. After years as a senior French diplomat, including a stint as ambassador to Georgia, she became foreign minister of Georgia in 2004. She was ousted the next year, but not before negotiating the deal that forced the Russian military to withdraw from the former Soviet republic.)
Needless to say, when Alexis returned to Vienna in 1990 to oversee the translations of the CFE treaty proper, he was relieved to see that Salome had long since left. His negotiations were sometimes arduous and time consuming, butto our knowledge he was never again intimidated.
Within as well as outside the delegation, Alexis could be demanding and imperious, and it was obvious he never felt completely comfortable among us. Certainly our working conditions were not princely. We occupied a residential apartment building on the northern edge of Vienna that had been hastily transformed into offices years before and never upgraded. (The computer printer in the political section, for example, sat on top of a raw piece of plywood covering the bathtub.) Moreover, as the negotiating pace picked up, the delegation swelled with TDYers from Washington. Desks were shoehorned into every nook and cranny and some had to be shared.
Alexis disliked the frenetic pace and considered the constant air of crisis overwrought. Nevertheless, he treated us with a certain noblesse obligealways cordial, conscientious, accommodating when possible, but never overly friendly or ingratiating. When not instructing hapless diplomats from other delegations on the finer points of their own languages, the Prince roamed around the political section, discoursing at length on the status of the translations and the difficulties he had overcomestudiously ignoring whatever else was going on. I can see him now, clad in a brown tweed suit, leaning back in his chair, legs crossed, hands steepled, sad droopy eyes behind enormous black-framed glasses trained on the ceiling, making a point in his deliberate, precise, just slightly accented English.
Princely Social Standards
It was the next summer, while we were back in Washington seeking Senate approval of the treaty, that the Soviet Union came apart. We managed to convince senators that approving the pact still made sense, and the president was able to ratify CFE in December of 1991. By that time, I had lost touch with Alexis, who had moved on to other language challenges, but I learned later that the demise of Communism and of the Soviet Union opened a new chapter in his life. He could finally visit his familys former estate in Russia, and though he was never able to reclaim the extensive ancestral properties, he made frequent trips there and helped raise funds for the state orphanage and school that were located on the grounds. He died in February, 2006, at the age of 86, while on a trip to the estate.
Resplendent Russian Scion
It is already difficult for me to recall the issues we cared about so deeply and debated so fiercely during the negotiation of the treaty he helped us forge, but memories of the Prince will be with me forever.