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Russia freezes role in arms control treaty

July 15, 2007|From the Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russia suspended participation Saturday in a key European arms control treaty, saying it would no longer allow NATO inspections of its military sites nor limit the numbers of its tanks and other heavy conventional weapons.

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

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

The Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe was signed by Moscow and NATO members in 1990, when Soviet and NATO troops faced off in Central Europe. It was amended in 1999 to reflect 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. But the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization members have refused to commit to the revised treaty until the withdrawal is complete.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's decree freezing participation in the treaty 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 said Russia could no longer tolerate a situation in which it was complying with the treaty but its partners were not.

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

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the Bush administration was disappointed by Russia's decision but would continue talks "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.

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