Germany and other western European states are attempting to block Georgia and Ukraine from getting the green light to join NATO out of a fear of antagonising Russia.

Citing diplomatic sources, German daily Financial Times Deutschland says that a group of western countries do not want Tbilisi and Kiev to get candidate status for membership of the military alliance, something they are due to receive at a high-level summit in Bucharest next week.

At the 2-4 April meeting, Georgia and Ukraine are hoping to get approval for their membership action plans (MAP). This would be considered as a signal that their application bid is on the right track.

The camp of blocking states is said to include Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Luxembourg.

A fear of annoying Russia which is categorically against its two neighbours joining a military organisation to which it does not belong is behind the move.

Earlier in the week, incoming Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said in a Financial Times interview that Moscow was "not happy" with the situation.

"We consider that it is extremely troublesome for the existing structure of European security," he said.

The move by Germany and France and others puts them in the path of US president George W. Bush, who is in favour of Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO. Eastern EU member states such as Poland are also lobbying in favour of Tbilisi`s and Kiev`s membership.

Berlin opposition stems from a desire to keep talks on a compromise between Russia and the US on Washington`s planned missile defence shield - to be placed in Poland and the Czech Republic and strongly opposed by Moscow - on track.

Meanwhile, Georgia has called on NATO not to bow to pressure from Russia.

Foreign minister David Bakradze said it would inflame tensions in the region if Moscow gets its way on this issue.

"`No` in Bucharest will be very clearly seen by some people in Moscow as their success, and it will be very clearly seen in Moscow that they have indirect veto right on NATO decisions," he said on Wednesday (26 March).

From all our experience with Russians, the most effective policy with Russians is policy based on principles, not on appeasement," he added.

By Honor Mahony, EU Observer