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Putin freezes military pact, attacks foreign ‘interference’ in Russia

by Sebastian Smith
MOSCOW, April 26, 2007 (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin froze a key defence treaty Thursday in response to a planned US anti-missile system in Europe, and launched a stinging attack against foreign "interference" in Russia.

by Sebastian Smith
MOSCOW, April 26, 2007 (AFP) – President Vladimir Putin froze a key defence treaty Thursday in response to a planned US anti-missile system in Europe, and launched a stinging attack against foreign "interference" in Russia.

Putin called for a halt to Moscow’s compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, a major 1990 agreement limiting troop deployments in NATO and former Warsaw Pact countries.

"I propose we declare a moratorium on fulfilment by Russia of the CFE treaty," Putin told members from both houses of parliament gathered in the Kremlin.

 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later confirmed Russia’s suspension of the treaty, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Oslo where the alliance was holding two days of talks.

"Sergei Lavrov confirmed President Putin’s statement made this morning that Russia is suspending — he used the word moratorium — its adherence to the adapted CFE treaty," Scheffer said.

"That message was met by concern, grave concern, disappointment and deep regret because the allies are of the opinion that the CFE treaty is one of the cornerstones of European security."

The Russian president said that the missile defence system Washington hopes to base in eastern Europe — 10 non-explosive interceptors in Poland and a tracking radar in the Czech Republic — demonstrated the West’s bad faith in efforts to reduce arms in the region.

Moscow says the anti-missile shield would threaten Russia’s nuclear strike capability, but Washington insists the limited system is targeted only at small military powers such as Iran and could not dent Russia’s enormous capability.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Russia’s claims as "ludicrous" and a State Department spokesman in Washington called on Russia to honour its treaty commitments.

"The Russians have thousands of warheads. The idea that somehow you can stop the Russian strategic nuclear deterrent with a few interceptors just doesn’t make sense," Rice said.

Also Thursday, Czech President Vaclav Klaus flew to Moscow on a visit mainly aimed at calming the missile defence row, telling ITAR-TASS news agency in an interview that the US plans posed no threat to Russia.
Another source of East-West tension has been international criticism of Russian domestic policy, particularly growing state control over the media and accusations that the Kremlin persecutes opponents.

"There are some who are using democratic ideology to interfere in our internal affairs…. The flow of money from abroad used for direct interference in our affairs is growing," Putin said.

The attack stood out as a sharp rebuke to Western critics who accuse Putin of having rolled back democracy during his seven years in power.

Putin appeared to be referring to Western sympathy for small liberal opposition forces, including The Other Russia coalition.

The coalition, headed by chess legend Garry Kasparov, was in the headlines earlier this month when riot police violently dispersed attempted rallies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

In his address, Putin also trumpeted Russia’s booming, oil-fuelled economy and confirmed he would give up the presidency next year, as required under the constitution, while hinting at retaining some political role.
"In spring of next year my duties end and the next state of the nation speech will be delivered by a different head of state," Putin said.

However, Putin drew applause when he added: "It is too early for me to draw up my political testament."
Among those listening at the Kremlin, several interpreted the comment as a sign of a future role for the ex-KGB officer.