It would be in the country's best interests "to announce a moratorium on Russia's implementation of the CFE Treaty until all NATO countries ratify it and start to strictly adhere to it, as Russia does today unilaterally," Putin said Thursday in his last annual state of the nation address to parliament.
The CFE Treaty was concluded in 1990 between the then 22-member NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact to beef up arms control in Europe.
Putin said the CFE Treaty had become senseless after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. In fact, it served to formalize a situation that was not acceptable to Russia, because it limited the deployment of its conventional forces on its own territory.
Putin said Russia had not only signed the agreement, but also ratified it and had been implementing its provisions.
"We have significantly reduced our armed forces," Putin said. "We have withdrawn almost all heavy weaponry from the European part of the country."
Moreover, he said that Russia had not used the deterioration of the situation in Chechnya as an excuse to avoid compliance with the CFE.
"But what about our partners?" he asked. Some of them "have not even ratified the adopted treaty, citing the Istanbul Agreements, which stipulate the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Transdnestr," the Russian leader said.
He rejected those arguments as unsubstantiated, saying that troop withdrawal takes time and that Russia was moving towards the proclaimed goal. Besides, the deployment of conventional forces in Europe is not legally connected with the Istanbul Agreements, he said.
According to Putin, NATO is using the CFE as a cover for the deployment of military bases around Russia. The situation has recently been complicated by the United States' intention to deploy elements of a ballistic missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.
"NATO newcomers, such as Slovakia and the Baltic states, have not joined the CFE Treaty despite preliminary agreements with the alliance," he said.
Those who attended the address in the Kremlin, including about 500 ministers, top politicians, and public and religious leaders, applauded the idea of a CFE moratorium. Putin said the freeze would last until all NATO countries had ratified the document and begun implementing it.
"I propose discussing the issue at the Russia-NATO Council, and if progress is not reached in negotiations, [we may] consider the possibility of terminating our obligations under the CFE Treaty," Putin said.
Putin's last state of the nation address showed that Washington and other Western capitals have clearly underestimated Moscow's concern over the deployment of U.S. anti-ballistic-missile components in central Europe.
"It is obvious that U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe are not exclusively an issue of Russian-American relations," he said.
"They concern (...) the interests of all European nations, including those that are not NATO members," Putin said, adding that such an influential forum as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) must finally start facing the real issues that are plaguing Europe, rather than looking for trouble spots in the former Soviet republics.
Despite the harsh expression of Russia's attitude to conventional forces in Europe, Putin spoke about international issues rather calmly, not at all like he did in his speech at the security conference in Munich. The president advocated "new ethics" in international relations, free of attempts to force unacceptable models of democratic development on sovereign nations.
The first example of this new ethics could be the international digital library, which Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush have agreed to establish.
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