NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on Thursday demanded urgent explanation of Russian President Vladimir Putin's call for a moratorium on Russian compliance with the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty restricting military deployment across the continent.
"NATO allies attach great importance to the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty ... it is important that the Adapted CFE is ratified," said Scheffer at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Oslo.
Scheffer said he had no doubt that President Putin's comments would be discussed at a meeting between NATO foreign ministers and their Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Oslo later on Thursday.
"I expect Sergei Lavrov to explain the words of his president," Scheffer said.
Earlier on Thursday, Putin told the Russian parliament in his annual state of the nation address that "it would be appropriate to announce a moratorium on Russian adherence to this treaty until it has been ratified by all NATO countries."
"I suggest this issue be raised in the Russia-NATO council and, in the event there is no progress in negotiation, that we consider terminating our obligations under the CFE," Putin said.
The CFE Treaty was signed in 1990 in Paris by the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the former Warsaw Pact. It was adapted in 1999 following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the enlargement of NATO, but NATO states have not yet ratified the new pact.
A question of compliance
Putin said Russia, which did ratify the new treaty, had been complying with it on a unilateral basis and today had virtually no military forces deployed in the northwest and European areas of the country despite being the only CFE signatory with both northern and southern flanks to protect.
Members of the US-led NATO bloc have tied ratification of the adapted 1999 CFE Treaty to withdrawal of Russian forces from the ex-Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova, efforts which Russia says have been under way and which are bilateral issues unrelated to the CFE pact.
"What about them?" Putin said, referring to the NATO countries which have not ratified the treaty. "Our partners have not even ratified the treaty."
"This gives us every reason to say that our partners are acting in this situation incorrectly at a very minimum," Putin said in comments interrupted at one point by applause from the deputies from the State Duma and the Federation Council gathered at the Kremlin for the speech.
Russia and the West have been disputing application of the adapted CFE Treaty for years with each side accusing the other of acting in bad faith.
But Putin's warning ratcheted the testy rhetoric up to the top level of the state and coincided with a rapid chilling in relations between Russia and the United States over US plans to deploy elements of its new missile defense system in two former Warsaw Pact states near Russia's border.
The Russian president took direct aim at the US missile plans and linked it directly to the CFE treaty, stating: "It is high time for our partners to deliver their contribution to arms reduction, not just in word but in deed."
An unprecedented deployment?
Putin said the missile defense plan, if carried out, would mark an unprecedented deployment in Europe of US strategic weaponry and said this was an issue that should be of concern not just in US-Russian bilateral relations but on the continent as a whole.
"In one way or another, this affects the interests of all European states including those that are not members of NATO," Putin said.
The Russian leader said the matter should be taken up by the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), a body that Moscow has for years accused of veering from its original mission to deal with security matters in Europe toward promotion of a US political agenda.
"It is time to give the activities of the OSCE some real content, to turn the face of the organization toward the problems that really concern the people of Europe instead of only looking to build (political) blocs in the post-Soviet space," Putin said.