Russia to Suspend Treaty Participation

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 14, 2007; 10:50 PM

MOSCOW -- Russia said Saturday it will suspend participation in a key European arms control treaty, halting NATO inspections of its military sites and no longer limiting the numbers of its tanks and other heavy conventional weapons.

The move, threatened for months, added new tension to relations with the West already strained over U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe, Russian conflicts with its neighbors and Western criticism of Moscow's human rights record.

The suspension is to take place 150 days after Russia officially notifies all the countries concerned of its intention.

Experts said the move was a symbolic gesture rather than a sign of Russian intent to build up forces near its borders. The Kremlin, they said, appeared to be expressing its dissatisfaction with the perceived U.S. domination of global affairs, and positioning Russia as an unyielding global player.

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was signed by Russian and NATO members in 1990, when Soviet and NATO troops faced off in Central Europe. It was amended in 1999 to reflect changes since the breakup of the Soviet Union, adding the requirement that Moscow withdraw its forces from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia.

Russia has ratified the amended version and slowly moved to withdraw its forces in recent years. The United States and other NATO members have refused to commit to the revised treaty until the withdrawal is complete.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree freezing participation in the treaty that cited "extraordinary circumstances ... that affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures," the Kremlin said in a statement.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press that Russia could no longer tolerate a situation where it was complying with the treaty but its partners were not. He expressed hope Russia's move would push Western nations to ratify the updated treaty.

"Russia continues to expect that other nations that have signed the CFE will fulfill their obligations," Peskov said.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe expressed disappointment with the Russian move, but added, "We'll continue to have discussions with them in the coming months on the best way to proceed in this area _ that is in the interest of all parties involved and provides for security in Europe."

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said: "NATO regrets this decision by the Russian Federation. It is a step in the wrong direction." Britain's Foreign Ministry also expressed concern.

The treaty is seen as a key element of maintaining stability in Europe. It establishes limitations on countries' deployment of tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, attack helicopters and combat aircraft.

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