Moscow -- President Vladimir V. Putin said yesterday that in protest of U.S. plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe, Russia will suspend its observance of a treaty limiting the deployment of troops and conventional military equipment in Europe.
The announcement, made in Putin's annual speech to parliament, ratcheted up tensions between Russia and the U.S. over the missile system, which Moscow views as a step toward building a much larger system directed at Russia and China.
It was unclear, however, whether Russia's moratorium on observance of the treaty would have any practical effect, because the current version has never been ratified by the NATO countries that signed it.
They have demanded that Russia first honor commitments to withdraw Soviet-era military bases from Georgia and Moldova.
Putin, in his speech, said that if NATO signatories fail to ratify the treaty, Russia will consider withdrawing from the treaty.
While Russia has abided by it, he says, the effect has been that Russia faces restrictions on the deployment of its own troops on its own territory.
"It is hard to imagine that, for instance, the United States could restrict itself in transferring its troops in its own territory," he said. "At the same time, not only has Russia signed and ratified this treaty, but it is also observing all of its provisions."
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, speaking at a news conference in Oslo, Norway, responded sharply to Putin's declaration, which concerned the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) pact, a treaty that was initially signed in 1990 and revised in 1999.
"That message was met by concern, grave concern, disappointment and regret," Scheffer said, according to wire reports. "The allies are of the opinion that the CFE is one of the cornerstones of European security."
The United States appears reluctant to publicly acknowledge Putin's concerns, with American officials repeatedly insisting that the facilities planned for deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic cannot possibly threaten Russia's huge nuclear arsenal.
David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.