Russia to bail on Europe Arms Treaty

MOSCOW (CBS/AP) -- Russia's lower house of parliament voted unanimously Wednesday to suspend Moscow's participation in a key European arms control treaty, approving President Vladimir Putin's initiative in a widely expected show of defiance to the West.

In a 418-0 vote, lawmakers in the State Duma approved legislation under which Moscow would temporarily abandon its obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, a 1990 pact that has become one several issues straining Russia's relations with the United States and Europe.

Putin announced plans to suspend participation in the CFE treaty in July, amid increasing Russian anger over U.S. efforts to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe and growing Western influence in the former Soviet Union.

The Duma is dominated by the Kremlin-controlled United Russia party, making approval a foregone conclusion. The legislation still faces approval in the upper house, which is also a virtually certainty, before it goes to Putin for his signature. It would take effect Dec. 12.

The CFE treaty limits the number of tanks, aircraft and other conventional weapons in Europe. But Putin's decision to suspend participation is seen as being driven less by security concerns than by an increasingly confident Russia's desire to emphasize to the West that its interests cannot be ignored.

In a note attached to the legislation, Putin says his decision to seek withdrawal from the CFE Treaty was "prompted by the fact that the treaty no longer meets military and political realities in Europe and therefore does not duly protect the Russian Federation's security interests," according to Russian news agency Interfax.

Interfax quotes Gen. Yury Baluyevsky, Chief of the Russian General Staff, as saying, "the current CFE Treaty suits the United States and NATO, because it allows for the implementation the strategy of NATO's eastward expansion without any limits."

The British Broadcasting Corp. reports the suspension, if passed, would not be a "full-scale withdrawal" from the treaty. According to the BBC, Putin's initiative would see the Russians halt foreign inspections and data sharing about weapons deployments.

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak said the Kremlin was not "shutting the door to dialogue", according to the report on the BBC's Web site.

Posted by KO

The Associated Press and CBS News contributed to this report.