NATO accused Russia on Tuesday of escalating tensions with Georgia by sending troops to repair a railroad linking Russia with a breakaway Georgian border region, according to AP.

«This deployment is clearly in contravention of Georgia`s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which NATO strongly supports,» NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement. «These forces should be withdrawn.

Russia said Saturday it had sent personnel into Abkhazia to repair the railroad. The pro-Russian separatist government in Abkhazia said 300 Russian troops arrived to restore rail links with the southern Russian city of Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Georgia denounced the move as an aggressive step, saying the Russians were preparing a beachhead for intervention in Georgia.

De Hoop Scheffer said the troops were outside the peacekeeping mandate under which 2,500 Russian troops are stationed in Abkhazia, and appeared to have no legal basis.

«They have no place in Abkhazia,» he told Associated Press Television News. «The Georgians have not been asked, they have certainly not given their permission. ... It is an escalating action by Russia.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia have mounted in recent weeks, as the pro-Western Georgian government seeks closer ties with the West, including membership in NATO. Russia has responded with increased support for separatists in Abkhazia and another breakaway Georgian region, South Ossetia.

De Hoop Scheffer urged both sides to «engage quickly in a high-level and open dialogue to de-escalate tensions.

Abkhazia broke away from Georgia in 1992 after fierce fighting that followed the breakup of the Soviet Union. Georgia has not recognized the Black Sea region`s independence, but has offered it autonomy as part of a peace plan.

NATO, under pressure from Russia, delayed a decision last month on granting Georgia and Ukraine plan to achieve membership. But allied leaders said they could join one day and offered to review the decision in December.

AP, PR-Inside