At an annual address to parliament Thursday, Vladimir Putin said Russia should suspend its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) until other parties ratify it. He said Russia might leave the treaty if talks with NATO states show no visible progress in the implementation of the treaty in the future.
Speaking following a Russia-NATO forum in Norway late Thursday, Sergei Lavrov said the CFE contradicted Russia's interests.
"None of the NATO states has implemented the treaty, and we do not want to feel as if we are an act in the Theater of the Absurd... We have cut [our armed forces] at home, believing we are enhancing our security, against the backdrop of a growing NATO presence near our borders," Lavrov said in an apparent reference to the alliance's enlargement and opening bases in ex-Soviet states.
Putin's statement came following U.S. announced plans to deploy elements of its missile defense shield in Central Europe, as well as to finance NGOs and opposition parties in Russia in a bid to improve the country's democratic record. Moscow regards the prospects as a security threat and meddling in its domestic affairs.
In Norway, Lavrov dismissed U.S. concerns over a possible strike from Iran, which its radar in the Czech Republic and missile base in Poland are allegedly designed to counter, saying this was not a threat in the foreseeable future.
But he said Moscow was ready to continue talks on the missile defense plans with Washington and at the NATO-Russia Council, urging a joint assessment of real threats and a subsequent decision on where defense systems should be deployed.
"Russia is willing to continue discussions ... with the United States and within the NATO-Russia Council on condition the discussion be held with respect for the security interests of all parties involved," Lavrov said, adding Moscow's response to the U.S. proposal to participate in its missile defense program depended on further developments.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at the alliance's meeting in Oslo that although not ratified the CFE treaty was one of the cornerstones of European security, and Putin's "message was met by concern, grave concern, disappointment and regret."
Lavrov also said Russia and NATO still lacked mutual confidence: "The NATO-Russia Council's potential has not been exploited to the full. Our relations at times lack mutual trust."
The CFE was concluded in 1990 by the then-22 NATO members and the now defunct Warsaw Pact to enhance arms control in Europe, and amended in 1999 to heed post-Cold War realities. NATO countries have not ratified the new version, first demanding Russia withdraw Soviet-era bases from Georgia and Moldova under Istanbul agreements.
Moscow has said there is no link between the two documents, and argued NATO newcomers, Slovakia and three Baltic states, have not joined the CFE at all despite preliminary agreements.
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