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President Pulls Out of a Key Treaty

In a decision that threatens to raise tensions with the West, President Vladimir Putin declared over the weekend that Russia would suspend cooperation on a key European arms control treaty signed in the closing years of the Cold War.

Putin's decree, posted Saturday on the Kremlin's web site, says Russia will suspend its obligations under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe after 150 days due to "exceptional circumstances affecting the security of the Russian Federation and requiring immediate action."

The agreement, known as the CFE Treaty, was signed in 1990 and limits the number of conventional armed forces that may be deployed in Europe. An amended version of the treaty was signed in 1999.

Representatives of NATO countries condemned Putin's move. "We are not at all happy with Moscow's decision," Sven Mikser, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Estonian parliament, said Sunday by telephone from Tallinn.

Mikser linked the decision to a recent "aggressive" trend in Russian foreign policy.

NATO called the development "a step in the wrong direction." The alliance was expected to hold talks on formulating a response early this week.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who was Soviet president when the treaty was first signed, said Sunday that he backed the suspension.

"It would be utterly incomprehensible if Russia were the only country to follow the treaty, and the other side hadn't even ratified it," Gorbachev said, Interfax reported.

The suspension is not a surprise. Putin first floated the idea in his state-of-the-nation address in April, and he linked it to U.S. actions that have angered Moscow, especially plans to deploy a missile shield in Central Europe.

Saturday's presidential decree made no mention of the missile shield, however. It focused instead on the failure of NATO countries -- especially the alliance's new members in Eastern Europe -- to ratify the updated version of the treaty signed in 1999. It also criticized U.S. plans to deploy forces in Bulgaria and Romania.

The original CFE Treaty, signed in 1990 by 22 nations of NATO and the former Warsaw Pact, led to major reductions in the deployment of non-nuclear armaments all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ural Mountains.

It became out of date, however, after the Soviet Union broke up and former Warsaw Pact countries started joining NATO.

An amended version of the treaty was signed in Istanbul in 1999. The amended treaty replaced the old system of limits with a complex set of ceilings on the conventional forces that may be stationed in each country.

Russia has ratified the amended treaty, but no NATO country has done so. Kremlin officials have voiced frustration about this for several years.

The United States and other NATO countries have insisted that before they can ratify the treaty, Russia must first fulfill the so-called Istanbul Agreements -- a set of declarations, signed along with the treaty in 1999, in which Russia agreed to withdraw troops from Georgia and Moldova.

Russia maintains peacekeepers in breakaway regions of Georgia and Moldova. Western governments, however, argue that the troops are used to prop up pro-Russian regimes in the separatist enclaves of Abkhazia and Transdnestr. Moscow has argued that there is no legal link between the Istanbul Agreements and the amended CFE Treaty, and that NATO countries should go ahead and sign the treaty regardless of whether Moscow has withdrawn its troops yet. In turn, Western governments have said Moscow's position violates the spirit of the 1999 agreement. "Logically, the Istanbul Agreements form an integral part of the overall framework," said Mikser from Estonia, which is not a signatory of the treaty.

The impact of Putin's decision to suspend cooperation on the CFE Treaty was not fully clear Sunday. But the Foreign Ministry seemed to downplay any potential fears that Russia could use the suspension to return to Cold War-style levels of force in Europe.

"In the period of suspension, Russia will not be bound by any limits on conventional forces," the ministry said in a statement on its web site Saturday. "However, the actual number of Russian armaments will depend on the evolution of the military-political situation, including the willingness of other CFE member states to show adequate restraint."

The statement also said Russia would stop allowing inspections, currently conducted under the auspices of the treaty, once the 150-day notification period was over. The terms of the treaty call for any nation withdrawing from the treaty to give 150 days' notice.

Putin's decree falls short of a full withdrawal, however. Some experts have pointed out that the treaty has no clause about a temporary suspension of cooperation. "Apparently the Russian lawyers have been doing back flips trying to figure out a way to do it, since the CFE Treaty has no provision for a moratorium, only for withdrawal," said Rose Gottemoeller, the director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, The New York Times reported.

Relations between Russia and NATO have been strained recently due to tensions over U.S. plans to install components of a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. In February, Putin told an audience in Munich that the shield "could provoke nothing less than the beginning of a nuclear era."

Washington has tried to ease tensions in recent months, most notably in the so-called "lobster summit" between U.S. President George W. Bush and Putin in Kennebunkport, Maine, earlier this month.

On Friday, a group of U.S. dignitaries led by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger met Putin at his country residence outside Moscow in an effort to help improve U.S-Russian relations.

But, it seems, neither Kissinger nor lobsters could dissuade Putin from suspending cooperation on the CFE Treaty.

The CFE Treaty is not the first pillar of detente to collapse in recent years. In 2001, the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, angering Russian officials and, some say, setting a precedent for Saturday's decision on the CFE.

Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky warned on Saturday that Russia could withdraw from other treaties as well. "If today's message is ignored, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty will be next," he said, Interfax reported.

Main Elements of CFE Treaty

Original Treaty

• Concluded: on Nov. 19, 1990, between NATO and Warsaw Pact nations.

• Area affected: Between Atlantic Ocean and Ural Mountains.

• Force limits: Each bloc was limited to 6,800 combat aircraft and 2,000 attack helicopters, as well as 20,000 tanks, 30,000 armored personnel carriers, and 20,000 artillery guns. The changes eliminated the Warsaw Pact's overwhelming numerical superiority in Central Europe.

• Deployment limits: Basing of military forces was progressively restricted near the line dividing the two blocs, thus ensuring that neither could launch a surprise attack.

• Transparency: The treaty called for both blocs to allow inspectors from the other side to monitor military maneuvers and other movements, and to verify the destruction of weaponry.

Amended Treaty

• Concluded: Signed in Istanbul on Nov. 19, 1999.

• Main changes: Due to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the defection of many of its members to NATO, bloc force limits were abolished and replaced by a complex system of ceilings for individual nations and regions. The new version also called on Russia to pull out its forces from Georgia and Moldova.

• Signatories: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, Moldova, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States.

• Ratified by: The amended treaty has so far been ratified by Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia.

• Complaints: NATO signatories have complained that Russia has not withdrawn its forces from Moldova's breakaway Transdnestr province. Moscow says they are peacekeepers preventing a resumption of combat between the two sides. Russian leaders repeatedly criticized the treaty's revised version, saying it was irrelevant due to its continued nonratification by NATO members.

(The Moscow Times 16.vii.07)

 
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