- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 15, 2007

MOSCOW — Russia suspended participation in a key European arms-control treaty yesterday, saying it will halt NATO inspections of its military sites and no longer limit the numbers of its tanks and other heavy conventional weapons.

The move, threatened for months, adds new tension to relations with the West, which are 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.

Analysts 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, appears to be expressing its dissatisfaction with the perceived U.S. domination of global affairs, and aims to position Russia as an unyielding global player.

The Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty was signed by Russia 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 ratified the amended version and slowly moved to withdraw its forces in recent years. The United States and other NATO members refuse to commit to the revised treaty until the withdrawal is complete.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that freezes participation in the treaty, citing “extraordinary circumstances … that affect the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures,” the Kremlin said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia could no longer tolerate a situation where it was complying with the treaty but its partners were not. He expressed hope that 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,” Mr. Peskov said.

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

“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,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai said: “NATO regrets this decision by the Russian Federation. It is a step in the wrong direction.”

Russian military analysts said Russia’s move is a symbolic upping of the ante in the missile-shield showdown more than it is a sign of impending military escalation.

Russian officials have strongly protested U.S. plans to build a radar site in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland, saying the U.S. system is aimed at its nuclear arsenal and would upset the balance of strategic forces in Europe. The United States insists that the anti-missile system is aimed at future nuclear threats from Iran.

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