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Russia Suspends Key Cold War-Era Arms Treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday signed a law suspending his nation's participation in a key Cold War treaty, a move that would allow Moscow to deploy more troops and military hardware near Western European borders.

Suspension of the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits deployment of tanks, aircraft and other heavy weapons across the continent, takes effect Dec. 12.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington was disappointed that Putin signed the law.

"This is a mistake. It is Russia unilaterally walking out of one of the most important arms control regimes of the last 20 years," Burns said at an international security conference in Madrid.

At Putin's prompting, both houses of Russia's parliament this month passed the measure. He had called for the temporary withdrawal from the agreement amid mounting anger in the Kremlin over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Russia believes it could be the target of such a system, resulting in a destabilization of nuclear deterrence.

Russia's withdrawal from the treaty follows months of stepped up rhetoric from the Kremlin as Putin has sought to reassert Moscow's position and influence in Europe after years of post-Cold War retrenchment.

Under the moratorium signed by Putin, Russia will halt inspections of NATO countries and verifications of Russian military sites and will no longer be obligated to limit the number of conventional weapons deployed west of the Ural Mountains, which stretch from central Siberia in the north to Russia's border with Kazakhstan near the Caspian Sea.

The 1990 arms control treaty — signed during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's tenure — set limits on the deployment of heavy conventional weapons by NATO and Warsaw Pact countries to ease tensions along the border between the old Eastern bloc and Western Europe. The treaty was revised in 1999 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia ratified the updated treaty in 2004, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to follow suit, saying Moscow first must fulfill obligations to withdraw forces from Georgia and from Moldova's separatist region of Trans-Dniester.

The United States, the European Union and NATO countries had urged the Russian president not to suspend the treaty, which is viewed as key to European security.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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