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Putin Threatens Moratorium on European Arms Pact


Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday threatened to declare a moratorium on the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, accusing NATO signatories of ignoring the terms of the agreement. As VOA's Lisa McAdams reports from Moscow, the president made the comments in a hawkish speech that marked his eighth and final state-of-the-nation address.

Nearly one hour into his state-of-the-nation address, President Putin told lawmakers from both houses of parliament that Russia had done its best to fulfill all the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty.

Since Russia ratified the landmark accord between NATO and Warsaw Pact countries, Mr. Putin said Russia had destroyed heavy weapons and vehicles.

But, the president said, some nations have failed to observe the terms of the agreement and Russia would consider a moratorium on the implementation of the treaty until other countries begin to strictly enforce it.

Mr. Putin linked the possible withdrawal from the treaty, in part, to Washington's plans to station elements of an anti-ballistic missile shield in Poland, the Czech Republic, and a third unidentified nation in the Caucasus.

Mr. Putin said the U.S. plan threatens Russia's national security, and he called for the issue to be included on the agenda of the NATO-Russia council meeting getting under way Thursday in Oslo, Norway.

Prior to the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed as "ludicrous" concerns in Moscow that the shield could pose a strategic threat to Russia. She told a news conference that "the idea that somehow 10 interceptors and a few radars in Eastern Europe are going to threaten Russia's strategic deterrent is purely ludicrous and everybody knows it."

A NATO spokesman is quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that Russia and NATO have disagreements but he hoped Moscow was open to discussion on the issues.

The Russian president's address also contained a veiled swipe at the West over its claims that he has rolled back democratic reforms in Russia, during his seven years in office.

Mr. Putin said foreign money was being channeled into Russia increasingly in this election year to, as he put it, "to directly meddle into internal affairs."

We don't need a revolution, Putin said, in reference to the mass protests of neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, where long-serving Soviet leaders were ousted from power by pro-Western opposition leaders.

Earlier this month, Russia was heavily criticized by Europe and the United States for violently dispersing opposition political rallies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, and arresting hundreds of participants, including opposition leaders.

Russia holds parliamentary elections this December to be followed by presidential elections in March, 2008.

On the domestic front, a large portion of the president's address was focused on the government's effort to fix the nation's dilapidated housing. The president suggested that some of the proceeds from the recent sale of assets of the government seized YUKOS oil company could be diverted into the housing budget.

Mr. Putin also answered the question of whether he would allow changes to the Constitution that could permit him to serve a third term, telling lawmakers that next year they would be addressed by a new president of Russia.

This year's address began with a moment of silence in honor of the late President Boris Yeltsin, who was buried in Moscow Wednesday with full state honors. Mr. Putin announced new funding toward the aim of building a presidential library in honor of his predecessor.

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