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Russia freezes key Weapons Treaty

Russia has symbolically withdrawn from a crucial arms treaty until European countries decide to ratify it. Russia’s upper house has approved the temporary suspension of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty from December 12.

“We expect a reaction that will bring the arms control in Europe to order. It is possible only in the case of the CFE treaty coming into full force, and through modernisation of the regime that is hopelessly outdated. To continue to act within the present framework doesn’t make sense,” said Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in his address to the Federation Council.

The major stumbling block is the adapted version of the treaty that was signed in Istanbul in 1999, and envisaged Russia’s withdrawal from Georgia and Moldova.

Russia hits back saying the link is not relevant.

“As for the attempts by our Western partners to link the ratification of the treaty to Moldova and Georgia, this is absolute politicisation of legal matters. Such a stance shows the reluctance of the West to restore the geopolitical balance in Europe. Russia fully abides by the so-called Istanbul commitments and believes that they should not be linked to the ratification of the adapted CFE Treaty. This is political, not legal,” said Lavrov.

Earlier the suspension of the treaty was backed by the lower house – the State Duma.

Russia’s move has the support of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, the only three other countries that had ratified the treaty.

Meanwhile, some experts are sceptical about the suspension of the treaty, saying the move will undermine Russia's relations with Europe.

“This is going to worsen relations between Russia and Europe. Please be reminded that it is Europe that Russia gets most of its currency from, not the U.S. If we ruin our relationship with Europe, this will hit us both financially and in terms of our reputation. This damage by far outweighs the benefits we supposedly gain by this move,” says Vladimir Evseev, a researcher from the Institute of World Economy.

U.S. military presence criticised

The treaty was signed in 1990 by 22 members and at the time seen as a landmark arms control agreement setting equal limits for the NATO countries and Russia in terms of weapon deployment across Europe.

Following NATO’s enlargement and the demise of the Warsaw Pact the original treaty had to be adapted eight years ago during a meeting in Istanbul. But the revisions cannot come into force unless all 30 states ratify it. So far only five countries – Russia among them – have carried it out.

Dialogue between Russia and NATO has ended in deadlock with Moscow firmly standing its ground. Russians feel there is little point in carrying on as a member until other NATO members follow suit.

President Putin has criticised the level of U.S. military presence in Europe near its borders, and says Russia's commitment to the treaty has been one-sided.