VIENNA, Austria – Russia on Monday called for substantive dialogue during an upcoming conference about a key Soviet-era arms control treaty that has been a source of increasing friction between Moscow and the NATO alliance.
"We are here to get down to some serious business ... we hope that we will have some very substantive talks," Anatoly Antonov, who heads the Russian Foreign Ministry's security and disarmament department, told reporters in Vienna.
"We're not trying to slam the door on things ... rather we're saying, let's get together, let's talk this over, let's take a look at the situation," Antonov said later, speaking through a translator.
Antonov made his comments on the eve of an extraordinary conference on the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. Russia last month requested the gathering, to be held behind closed doors starting Tuesday afternoon.
The treaty — which limits the number of military aircraft, tanks and other non-nuclear heavy weapons around Europe — was first signed in 1990 and amended in 1999 to reflect changes after the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has ratified the amended version, but the United States and other NATO members have refused to do so until Moscow withdraws troops from the former Soviet republics of Moldova and Georgia — an issue Moscow says is unrelated.
In April, Russian President Putin called for a moratorium on Moscow's participation, and warned that Russia could dump the treaty altogether if Western nations refused to ratify its amended version. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week, however, that Russia would not seek to abandon the treaty at this week's conference.
Antonov, flanked by other members of his delegation, sought to uphold that standpoint and emphasized that the aim of the conference was to revitalize and reanimate the treaty, which he described as "hopelessly outmoded."
"The conference that we are about to have is to enable us to see what we can do to ... pull the CFE treaty out of the quagmire it finds itself in," he said.
But Antonov did not take the possibility of a moratorium off the table completely. He said Russia had come to the conference with "specific proposals," and that "as a result of what we achieve — or fail to achieve in this conference — the decision will be taken concerning the moratorium."
Antonov, who earlier said his delegation had not come to Vienna to see the "same old treaty kept in place," said it was unacceptable that Russia still had to observe limits on its troop movements within its own territory.
According to background material provided by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, more than 60,000 battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, artillery, combat aircraft and attack helicopters have been taken out of service since the treaty entered into force in 1992.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried is expected to hold a news conference Tuesday.