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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Duma Approves Freeze on Crucial Arms Treaty

The State Duma 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, the Duma approved Moscow's temporary abandonment of its obligations under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, a pact that has become one several issues straining Russia's relations with the United States and Europe.

The legislation is virtually certain to gain approval from the Federation Council before being signed into law by Putin. It would take effect Dec. 12.

Putin first threatened to suspend participation in the treaty in April, amid increasing Russian anger over U.S. efforts to build a missile defense system in Central Europe and growing Western influence in former Soviet states.

The 1990 treaty set limits on the deployment of conventional armaments by NATO and Warsaw Pact countries. But the disintegration of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed strategic balances, and a revised treaty was worked out in 1999.

Russia ratified the updated treaty in 2004, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so, demanding that Moscow fulfill obligations to withdraw its forces from Georgia and Moldova's self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic.

Russia claims ratification is not contingent on the withdrawals and says adherence to the outdated limits of the original pact compromises its security.

Putin complained in May that NATO countries were "filling Eastern Europe with new weapons" and said Russia would have to respond.

"The current CFE Treaty suits the United States and NATO because it allows for the implementation NATO's strategy of eastward expansion without any limits," Yury Baluyevsky, chief of the General Staff, told the Duma.

But Putin's decision to suspend participation is seen as driven less by security concerns than by an increasingly confident desire to emphasize to the West that the country's interests cannot be ignored.

"This is a forced measure necessitated by the actions -- or rather the inaction -- of our partners," said Konstantin Kosachyov, head of the Duma's International Affairs Committee.

Kosachyov stressed that the suspension was "not an act of aggression" and was not aimed to scuttle the treaty altogether, although Putin has said Russia could pull out of the pact if its efforts bring no NATO response.

The Foreign Ministry has said that under the moratorium, Russia will halt inspections and verifications of its military sites by NATO countries and will no longer limit the numbers of its conventional weapons.

A top Defense Ministry official, Colonel General Alexander Kolmakov, said Wednesday that Russia would not rule out strengthening its forces in the western part of the country, but he indicated that no specific plans had been made, Russian news agencies reported.

Analysts say Russia has no interest in a costly force buildup because it faces no real military threat from NATO and has no plans to launch an attack of its own.