The law to freeze Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty was unanimously approved by parliament and signed on November 30 by President Vladimir Putin. Russia's unilateral moratorium came into force immediately after midnight on Wednesday.
Moscow considers the original CFE treaty, signed in December 1990 by 16 NATO countries and six Warsaw Pact members, to be discriminatory and outdated since it does not reflect the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the breakup of the Soviet Union, or recent NATO expansion.
In a statement made on Wednesday, NATO countries said they "deeply regret" the decision, adding they "continue to place the highest value on the CFE Treaty regime with all its elements and underscore its strategic importance as a cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security."
The statement said: "The Russian Federation's 'suspension' is a unilateral measure not provided for under the terms of the CFE Treaty. This step does not contribute to the long-term viability of the CFE Treaty and we urge the Russian Federation to rescind its decision."
It also went on to state that the organization members had "chosen not to respond in kind at this stage to the Russian Federation's political decision" adding "when the annual CFE exchange of military information takes place this week, the NATO Allies will meet their obligations."
NATO "strongly urged" Russia "not to take further steps that would undermine the future of the CFE regime."
General of the Army Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the Russian General Staff, earlier said that the current treaty favored the U.S. and NATO because it allowed them to exceed national and territorial limitations on the number of armaments, freely deploy and re-deploy military contingents anywhere in Europe, and monitor Russian troops in the European part of Russia.
According to Russia's Defense Ministry, NATO has substantially exceeded armament levels permitted by the CFE for NATO members - by 6,000 tanks, some 10,000 armored vehicles, over 5,000 artillery items and 1,500 combat planes.
Baluyevsky also said at the time that the Baltic States, which had not signed the adapted document, remained "grey zones" not covered by arms control agreements.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement early on Wednesday that under these unfair conditions Russia "had no alternative but to suspend its CFE membership to protect its interests in the sphere of military security."
In practical terms, Moscow will not share with NATO information specified by the provisions of the CFE treaty, and will not allow any NATO military inspections on the territory of the Russian Federation.
The ministry also said that Russia could resume its participation in the treaty shortly after NATO countries ratify the adapted version of the CFE treaty, signed on November 19, 1999 by all NATO countries except Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Slovenia.
The moratorium "is justified politically, is legitimate, and allows Russia to resume its participation in the treaty by presidential decree if our [NATO] partners show their political will [by ratifying the adapted document]," the statement said.
The ministry reiterated that Russia proposed to NATO concrete measures to revive the arms control treaty, which the West considers the cornerstone of European security. They include agreements on how to compensate for misbalances in the number of deployed weaponry, which emerged after NATO's expansion, and the abolishment of the so called flank limitations on the territory of Russia.
"Russia is ready to continue a result-oriented dialogue on the CFE even during the current moratorium," the statement concluded.