In a thinly veiled response to a planned U.S.-led missile defense system on its border, Russia renounced a major conventional arms control treaty Saturday, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, July 12).
"Extraordinary circumstances which affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures" led the Russian government to impose the moratorium on participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, said a Kremlin statement.
NATO and the waning Soviet Union signed the treaty in 1990. It was intended to reduce Cold War tensions by limiting the number of tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery pieces, attack helicopters and combat aircraft each side could concentrate in Europe, according to an Arms Control Association fact sheet. The treaty also included highly transparent verification inspections.
The Russian suspension terminates those inspections and removes the cap on heavy attack forces it can deploy in the heart of Europe, AP reported.
"NATO regrets this decision by the Russian Federation. It is a step in the wrong direction," said NATO spokesman James Appathurai.
Experts on the Russian military interpreted the treaty suspension as a strong but symbolic expression of revolt against the planned missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The maneuver is not likely to produce large arms increases in western Russia, because there is no looming threat to counter with such a buildup, said Pavel Felgenhauer, a military analyst in Moscow.
Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the suspension resulted from other signatories skirting the rules. He called for full adherence to the treaty, which was updated in 1999. NATO members, including the United States, have said they would not ratify the amended pact until Russia pulls out all troops from Moldova and Georgia (Maria Danilova, Associated Press I/ New York Sun, July 14).
Washington played down the Russian moratorium, AP reported.
"We're disappointed Russia has suspended its participation for now, but 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," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.
The announced suspension does not take effect for 150 days, said a Bush administration official who requested anonymity.
The official did admit the Russian move had much to do with the U.S.-sponsored missile defense system but indicated talks were already under way with the Kremlin to preclude formal suspension, AP reported.
President George W. Bush has repeatedly insisted the system is meant to protect against an Iranian threat rather than Russian missiles (Deb Riechmann, Associated Press II, July 14).
Meanwhile, Polish President Lech Kaczynski was scheduled to meet with Bush today in Washington to discuss cooperation on the missile defense system. The agenda was also to include Polish participation in the U.S.-led coalitions in Iraq and Afghanistan (Associated Press III/PR-inside, July 16).