Emergency Conference Sought on Arms Treaty

The Foreign Ministry on Monday requested an emergency conference to discuss an arms control pact after accusing NATO nations of ignoring the deal negotiated in the months after the Cold War ended.

Last month, President Vladimir Putin froze Moscow's commitments under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and said Russia could withdraw altogether if the Russia-NATO Council failed to find a solution suitable to Moscow.

"Russia on May 28 approached the Netherlands, the depositary of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, with a request to call an emergency conference on June 12 to 15 in Vienna," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The statement did not specify what Russia was planning to propose at the Vienna conference, but its move could further strain relations with the United States already soured by a dispute over U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Eastern Europe.

Moscow opposes the plans to base 10 missile interceptors in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic from 2012 to head off what the United States sees as a threat from Iran and North Korea.

U.S. President George W. Bush will meet Putin at a Group of Eight summit in Germany from June 6 to 8 and is due to visit the Czech Republic and Poland while he is in Europe.

Putin cited the U.S. plan as the last straw that pushed him to freeze Moscow's CFE commitments, but the chief of the General Staff, General Yury Baluyevsky, said later that it was not directly linked.

The CFE pact, originally signed in 1990 and updated in 1999, limits the number of battle tanks, heavy artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters deployed and stored between the Atlantic and the Ural Mountains.

But after the Soviet collapse, most of Moscow's Warsaw Pact allies became NATO members and the CFE treaty -- still described by officials as a cornerstone of security in Europe -- became a largely symbolic document.

The Western partners refuse to ratify the CFE until Russia pulls out its bases from Georgia and Moldova, as it had promised when the treaty was reviewed in Istanbul in 1999.

Russia, which is already in the process of pulling out of Georgia, says the issue of bases is not part of the CFE and accuses the West of artificially linking the two issues.

Moscow, unhappy about NATO's expansion eastward, says U.S. plans to open bases for several thousand soldiers in Romania and Bulgaria this year are in breach of the CFE.

NATO officials insist that the U.S. bases are not intended as permanent installations and so cannot be seen as a breach.

"Russia believes the exceptional circumstances that serve as grounds for calling the conference include the serious problems that have arisen in implementing the treaty by NATO countries as a result of the expansion of the alliance," the Foreign Ministry said.

Officials have expressed unhappiness with parts of the treaty, which require that Russia notify other signatories when it carries out redeployments of its forces inside its own borders.

Some analysts say Russia's departure from the CFE could mirror Washington's 2001 decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile pact with Moscow.