MOSCOW, April 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Thursday that Russia should unilaterally suspend the implementation of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe until other parties to the treaty ratify the document.
"I think it is necessary 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 in his annual state of the nation address to parliament.
The CFE treaty was concluded in 1990 by the then-22 members of NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact to enhance arms control in Europe.
An updated version elaborated to adapt the accord to post-Cold War realities was signed by all the parties in 1999, but only four - Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan - have ratified it so far.
"NATO newcomers, such as Slovakia and the Baltic states, despite preliminary agreements with the alliance, have not joined the CFE treaty altogether," the Russian president said, adding that the treaty has been implemented only at the level of information exchange and mutual inspections.
Putin reiterated that Russia is the only party to the agreement that signed, ratified and has been implementing the provisions of the document.
"We have significantly reduced our armed forces," Putin said. "We have withdrawn almost all heavy weaponry from the European part of the country."
"But what about our partners? They have not even ratified the adopted treaty, citing the Istanbul Agreements that stipulate the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia and Transdnestr," the Russian leader said.
He also suggested that Russia might consider leaving the CFE treaty if talks with NATO countries show no visible progress in the implementation of the treaty in the future.
"I propose discussing the issue at the Russia-NATO Council, and if progress is not reached in negotiations, consider the possibility of terminating our obligations under the CFE Treaty," Putin said.
A Kremlin source later confirmed the Kremlin's determination to follow up on Putin's proposal, giving the alliance a year to make a decision on the CFE or face Russia's unilateral withdrawal from the treaty.
"We have approached our [NATO] partners on the issue on numerous occasions, but they have never made any progress toward ratification of the treaty," the source said. "They must decide on the future of the treaty in a short time - within a year."
The strong statement made by the Russian leader triggered an immediate response from NATO headquarters in Brussels that said the alliance is expecting to receive clarification on the Russian position in the near future.
Guy Roberts, a senior NATO official, said Thursday he hopes President Vladimir Putin's proposal on Russia's withdrawal from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty is not a final decision.
The trans-Atlantic alliance earlier said its member nations will not ratify the adapted CFE until after Russia withdraws its military bases from ex-Soviet republics, such as Georgia and Moldova.
But Putin insisted that the Istanbul Agreements were not legally bound to the CFE treaty, and Russia had made serious efforts to resolve the issue of its military presence on the post-Soviet territory.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last year that "the Georgia pretext" was no longer valid as the sides had already agreed on the withdrawal of military bases from Georgian territory.
Russia's Defense Ministry resumed the withdrawal of its military bases from Georgia last week under the 2006 agreement between the Georgian and Russian governments.
The Akhalkalaki base in the south of the country is to be completely evacuated before the end of the year, while a base in the Black Sea port of Batumi is to close by the end of 2008.
Russia completed the withdrawal of its military garrison from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, handing over control of its headquarters to Georgia's Defense Ministry, last December.
Lavrov also said there were only 500 Russian servicemen currently deployed in Moldova's breakaway Transdnestr region and that they were guarding Europe's largest arms depot. "It would be a crime to leave it unattended," he said.
President Putin said Thursday these unilateral actions serve as proof of Russia's determination to adhere to the treaty and question, at the same time, the real intentions of NATO countries.
"This gives us the right to insist that our [NATO] partners are behaving incorrectly, to say the least, attempting to achieve unilateral advantages," he said, adding that the West is trying to build a network of military bases along the Russian border.
"In addition, they are planning to deploy elements of a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland," Putin said.
In January, the U.S. announced plans to deploy a radar facility in the Czech Republic and a missile base in Poland to counter possible attacks from Iran or North Korea, whose nuclear programs have provoked serious international concerns.
Moscow has been strongly opposed to the U.S. plans, saying they would threaten Russia's security and destroy the strategic balance of forces in Europe.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who met with President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov during his recent visit to Moscow, apparently failed to convince the Russian leadership that the U.S. missile shield does not pose any threat to Russia, although he suggested that Moscow could cooperate with Washington on a whole range of issues related to the missile defense system.
Russia warned Washington that it would monitor the U.S. missile defense installations in Europe if they were ultimately deployed, and would develop an adequate response to U.S. actions.
"If we see that these installations pose a threat to Russia's national security, they will be targeted by our forces," Yury Baluyevsky, the chief of the Russian General Staff, said Tuesday. "What measures we are going to use - strategic, nuclear or other - is a technical issue."
President Putin said in his annual address that the issue of the European missile shield must be discussed in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"It is obvious that U.S. plans on deployment of a missile defense system in Europe are not exclusively an issue of Russian-American relations," he said.
"It concerns, to a various extent, interests of all European nations, including those that are not NATO members," Putin said, adding that the OSCE must finally start facing the real issues that are plaguing Europe, rather than looking for trouble spots on the post-Soviet space.