World and Nation

Putin Suspends Arms Treaty To Contest U.S. Defense Plans

President Vladimir V. Putin said Thursday that Russia would suspend its compliance with a treaty on conventional arms in Europe that was forged at the end of the Cold War, opening a fresh and intense dispute in the souring relations between NATO and the Kremlin.

The announcement, made in Putin’s annual address to Parliament, underscored the Kremlin’s anger at the United States for proposing a new missile defense system in Europe, which the Bush administration insists is meant to counter potential threats from North Korea and Iran.

Putin suggested that Russia would use its future compliance with the treaty as a bargaining point in that disagreement with the United States.

The new standoff also demonstrated the Kremlin’s lingering frustration over NATO’s expansion toward Russia’s borders and with the treaties negotiated in the 1990s when Russia, still staggering through its post-Soviet woes, was much weaker and less assertive on the world stage than it is today.

Although Putin did not mention it on Thursday, Russia is angry that in 2001 the Bush administration unilaterally pulled out of the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. On Monday, Putin’s defense minister, Anatoly E. Serdyukov, firmly rejected an offer from the visiting American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, to share anti-missile technology, which had been intended to assuage Moscow’s opposition to Washington’s missile-defense plan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Oslo at a gathering of top diplomats from NATO countries, reacted coldly to Putin’s speech. “These are treaty obligations, and everyone is expected to live up to treaty obligations,” she said.

Rice also dismissed Russian concerns that introducing new military technology to Europe could upset the balance of forces there and set off an escalation that could lead to a new Cold War. She called such claims “purely ludicrous” and said the scale of the proposed missile defense system was obviously far too small to defend against the Russian nuclear arsenal.

Though the step by Putin was incremental, it was highly symbolic and reminiscent of brinkmanship in the Cold War.

The agreement in question, the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, known by the initials CFE, was signed in 1990 by the members of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact, including Russia.

It required the reduction and relocation of much of the main battle equipment then located along the East-West dividing lines, including tanks, artillery pieces, armored vehicles and attack aircraft. It also established an inspection regime.

Under the treaty more than 50,000 pieces of military equipment were converted or destroyed by 1995. With its initial ambitions largely achieved, it was renegotiated in 1999, adding a requirement that Russia withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova, two former Soviet republics where tensions and intrigue with Moscow run high.

Russia has not withdrawn its troops, and the revised treaty has not been ratified by most of the signing nations, including the United States.