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Russia threatens to walk out of arms pact

Vladimir Radyuhin

NATO increasing military presence in Europe: Putin

— PHOTO: AP

TOUGH STAND: President Vladimir Putin delivering the annual state of the nation address in Moscow on Thursday.

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin has called for a freeze on Russian compliance with a 1990 treaty on the reduction of armed forces in Europe and threatened to walk out of the pact in response to a U.S. military build-up near Russian borders.

Recalling that Russia not only ratified the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which limited the number of troops and heavy weapons in continental Europe, but has fully complied with it, Mr. Putin said the NATO countries were refusing to endorse the pact and were increasing military presence in Eastern Europe.

Pretexts

"Refusing to ratify the CFE treaty under far-fetched pretexts they are using this situation to expand a network of military bases near our borders," he said in his annual state-of-the-nation address in the Kremlin on Thursday. "Moreover, they are planning to deploy components of a missile defence system in the Czech Republic and Poland... I think it will be expedient to declare a moratorium on Russian compliance with the [CFE] treaty until all NATO member countries ratify it," Mr. Putin said, adding that Moscow will consider withdrawing from the treaty altogether if NATO fails to heed its complaints.

The CFE treaty has been the cornerstone of European security, and its collapse may trigger a new arms race on the continent. Initially negotiated between NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact, the CFE treaty paved the way to the destruction of 60,000 armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and aircraft, and the reduction of the two bloc's armies in Europe from 5.7 to fewer than three million men. In 1999 the pact was amended to take account of new realities — the induction of former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO and the break up of the Soviet Union.

However, the NATO members have stalled demanding that Russia first withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova, which Moscow said was not related to the CFE pact.

A moratorium on compliance with the CFE treaty will enable Russia to strengthen troops near its Western borders and re-deploy heavy weapon systems it has pulled out from its European territory.

Mr. Putin said with the Warsaw Pact gone it was an anachronism that Russia should be restricted in deploying its armed forces within its own borders.

"It is hard to imagine that the United States, for example, would accept restrictions on the movement of its troops around its own territory."

New President

AFP reports:

Next year's speech will be given by a new President, said Mr. Putin.

``In spring of next year my duties end and the next state of the nation speech will be delivered by a different head of state.''

He gave no indication of who he thought might be a suitable successor.

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