Putin ordered the move in a decree signed today, the Kremlin said in a statement. It added that the decision was linked to "extraordinary circumstances” that affect “the security of the Russian Federation and require immediate measures."
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, speaking to reporters in Moscow, insisted that Russia is not “closing the door” on the treaty, which limits the number of heavy weapons that signatory countries can deploy between the Atlantic Ocean and the Ural Mountains.
But Kislyak called Putin's decision a “logical and justified step” as Russia continues to await a NATO response to proposals that Moscow has made on resolving their differences over the treaty.
An Outdated Pact?
"This treaty in its present form is hopelessly outdated. It was signed in 1990 and it regulates relations between NATO countries and Warsaw Pact countries,” Kislyak said. “But today, there is no longer a Soviet Union nor a Warsaw Pact, while NATO is continuing to expand, exceeding the limits established by the treaty. And some of the new NATO member countries are not covered by this treaty at all. The decision about the suspension of the treaty, therefore, is a result of circumstances linked to Russia's security."
In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai called Putin's decision a "disappointing move, a step backwards." He added that NATO considers the treaty to be an important foundation of European security and stability.
Tensions between Russia and NATO have been strained recently over disagreement on a range of issues. These include U.S. plans to place an antimissile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, both former Warsaw Pact members, and the future status of Serbia's Kosovo province.
The foreign ministries in Warsaw and Prague as well as Bucharest all expressed regret today over Russia’s decision. Czech Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zuzana Opletalova said the move could signify a “a threat to European security.”
In April, Putin warned that Russia might withdraw from the treaty, saying it was frustrated by the refusal of NATO states to ratify a version of the treaty amended in 1999 to reflect changes that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union.
"It's a deeply unfriendly act. The irony is that even though NATO countries haven't ratified the adapted agreement, they all observe its terms." -- Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts
NATO says its refusal is based on Russia's own failure to meet its obligations under the pact to withdraw troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia. Russia rejects any link between the treaty and its troops in those two countries.
The chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, called Russia's decision a "matter of high concern." He urged signatory states to renew efforts to address the CFE's "underlying difficulties."
Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts, speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service, called Putin's decision "a deeply unfriendly act," adding: "The irony is that even though NATO countries haven't ratified the adapted agreement, they all observe its terms. No one is going over the prescribed limit."
Golts also said he doesn't believe Russia's move will result in any concrete military changes, such as an arms buildup in Kaliningrad, the Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland on the Baltic Sea. Instead, the analyst said Russia will probably limit its reaction to refusing to let any signatory states inspect Russian armed forces.
The CFE treaty was discussed in June at a four-day emergency session of its signatories and other officials in Vienna. It was also a topic during talks that month at a session of the NATO-Russia Council.
During those talks, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged moderation in NATO-Russian relations, calling on all sides to "lower the volume."
De Hoop Scheffer also called on Moscow not to abandon its commitment to the CFE treaty in retaliation for U.S. missile-defense plans, saying this would be "a very negative development."
"I strongly believe that there is no alternative to a
good and healthy Russia-NATO relationship because NATO cannot do without its
important partner Russia, and I think I can say that Russia cannot do without
NATO," he said on June 26.