Russia ready to start CFE talks with NATO in May

( RIA Novosti ) - Russia will discuss the start of talks on the future of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) during a Russia-NATO Council meeting in Brussels May 10, the chief of the General Staff said Friday.

"I will be in Brussels on May 10, and we are ready to start negotiations to explain the position of our president [on the CFE treaty] to our [NATO] colleagues," Army General Yury Baluyevsky told a news conference in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Thursday that Russia should unilaterally suspend the implementation of the CFE treaty 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 was concluded in 1990 by the then-22 NATO members and the now defunct Warsaw Pact to enhance arms control in Europe, and amended in 1999 to take post-Cold War realities into account.

NATO countries have not ratified the new version, demanding that Russia first withdraw Soviet-era bases from Georgia and Moldova under the Istanbul Agreements.

Moscow has said there is no link between the two documents, and argued that NATO newcomers Slovakia and the three Baltic states have not joined the CFE at all, despite preliminary agreements.

Putin 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, which 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 CFE treaty is not a final decision.

Russia's foreign minister has attempted to clarify President Putin's remarks on a possible withdrawal from the treaty.

Speaking following a Russia-NATO forum in Norway late Thursday, Sergei Lavrov said the CFE contradicted Russia's interests.

"None of the NATO states has implemented the treaty, and we do not want to feel as if we are an act in the Theater of the Absurd... We have cut [our armed forces] at home, believing we are enhancing our security, against the backdrop of a growing NATO presence near our borders," Lavrov said in an apparent reference to the alliance's enlargement and opening bases in ex-Soviet states.

Putin's statement came following U.S. announced plans to deploy elements of its missile defense shield in Central Europe, as well as to finance NGOs and opposition parties in Russia in a bid to improve the country's democratic record. Moscow regards the prospects as a security threat and meddling in its domestic affairs.

In Norway, Lavrov dismissed U.S. concerns over a possible strike from Iran, which its radar in the Czech Republic and missile base in Poland are allegedly designed to counter, saying this was not a threat in the foreseeable future.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at the alliance's meeting in Oslo that although not ratified the CFE treaty was one of the cornerstones of European security, and Putin's "message was met with concern, grave concern, disappointment and regret."

U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice earlier said Russia's worries over the U.S. missile defense plans in Central Europe are "ludicrous," adding that Russia should respect the CFE treaty.

"These are treaty obligations and everyone is expected to live up to treaty obligations," Rice told journalists.

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