Friday, April 27, 2007

Putin in threat on European arms treaty

Putin in threat on European arms treaty
By Neil Buckley in Moscow and Daniel Dombey in Oslo
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007
Published: April 26 2007 12:10 | Last updated: April 27 2007 09:41

President Vladimir Putin used his final state-of-the-nation address on Thursday to accuse the west of "colonial-style" interference in Russia's domestic affairs and said Moscow would stop implementing an important arms limitation treaty.

Mr Putin also gave his clearest signal yet that he would stand down as Russian president next year. Next year's address, he said, "will be given by a different head of state".

Much of his 70-minute speech was devoted to plans to pour billions of dollars of Russia's mounting oil wealth into massive programmes to build new roads, housing, nuclear power stations, airports and shipping terminals.

But two sections highlighted the continued deterioration of relations between Russia and the west and Moscow's deep suspicion over the intentions of Nato and the US - and particularly of Washington's planned missile defence system. Mr Putin announced a moratorium on Russian observance of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which imposes limits on non-nuclear arms in Europe. He threatened that Russia might withdraw from the treaty altogether unless Nato countries ratified a revised version agreed in 1999.

He linked the decision to US plans to site elements of its missile defence in eastern Europe, but also alleged that European countries were not fulfilling their obligations under the treaty.

"This gives us full grounds to declare that our partners are, to say the least, behaving incorrectly . . . using this situation to build up systems of military bases near our borders."

"This creates real dangers with unpredictable surprises for us . . . I consider it expedient to announce a moratorium on Russian fulfilment of this treaty until all countries of Nato, without exception, ratify this treaty," he said.

Speaking after a Nato foreign minsters meeting in Oslo, Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said: "These are treaty obligations and everyone is expected to live up to treaty obligations." Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Nato secretary-general, said the alliance's ministers had expressed "grave concern and regret" at Mr Putin's move.

But Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minster, said Nato's expansion had rendered the CFE treaty "valueless".

Earlier, Mr Putin declared: "There is a growing influx of money from abroad, used for direct interference in our internal affairs."

He added:"There are those who, skilfully using pseudo-democratic phrases, would like to return to the recent past."

His words appeared a thinly-veiled reference to alleged western support for political opposition in Russia.


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