NATO ministers to review ties with Russia

10:04, 19 August 2008
World
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They may curtail high-level meetings and military cooperation

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to push NATO allies Tuesday to curtail high-level meetings and military cooperation with Russia unless Moscow sticks to its cease-fire pledge to withdraw troops from Georgia, according to AP.

Tensions between Russia and the West are at some of their highest levels since the breakup of the Soviet Union, as Russian troops appeared to consolidate their hold on parts of Georgian territory after signing the EU-backed truce to end the short war and pull back its troops.

How far NATO goes in cutting back ties with Moscow will depend on Russia`s implementation of a peace plan.

U.S. diplomats denied Russian claims that Washington wants to break up the NATO-Russian Council which was set up in 2002 to improve relations between the former Cold War foes.

But in a reflection of American anger over the Russian invasion of its small, pro-Western neighbor, a senior U.S. official said Monday the alliance would have to rethink a range of planned activities — from a meeting with Russia`s defense minister foreseen in October, to regular military consultations in areas like counterterrorism, managing air space and rescue at sea.

NATO officials said that approach was likely to win support at Tuesday`s emergency meeting of alliance foreign ministers, despite wariness among some European allies about further damaging relations with Moscow.

"Russia will pay a price," Rice said before flying to Brussels for the talks.

Russia`s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned that what he described as an anti-Russian propaganda campaign could jeopardize existing security cooperation.

"We hope that tomorrow`s decisions by NATO will be balanced and that responsible forces in the West will give up the total cynicism that has been so evident (which) is pushing us back to the Cold War era," Rogozin told reporters.

Russia promised to start withdrawing forces Monday back to positions in Georgia`s breakaway South Ossetia province in line with the peace deal negotiated last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But instead, Russian forces held fast to key positions, sent some of its troops closer to the Georgian capital and roamed freely around the strategically located central city of Gori.

Neutral Sweden, which has close ties with NATO but also engages in military exchanges with Russia, announced Monday it would halt all exercises and military ties with Russia because of the Georgia conflict.

The Swedish government called Russia`s military presence in Georgia destabilizing and a crime that violates international law.

The NATO meeting will also discuss support for a planned international monitoring mission in the region and a package of support to help Georgia rebuild infrastructure damaged by Russian forces.

Finland`s Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb will brief his NATO colleagues on proposals to send up to 100 more unarmed military monitors under the control of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"We need these monitors in there and we need them now," Stubb told Associated Press Television News. "If we can`t get those military observers in there, I don`t think the cease-fire will hold."

NATO is expected to offer to send civil emergency experts to help Georgia plan repairs to its power network, airports, hospitals and other infrastructure, but the alliance is unlikely to send personnel to carry out the reconstruction. The ministers are expected to restate NATO`s firm opposition to the separatist ambitions of Georgia`s pro-Russian breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused NATO leaders of encouraging the Russian invasion by postponing a decision in April to put Georgia and Ukraine on a fast track to NATO membership.

The Western allies held off because Germany and France were wary of Russian opposition to the move, since Russia is Europe`s main energy supplier.

In a visit Sunday to the beleaguered Georgian capital of Tbilisi, however, German Chancellor Angela Merkel repeated Western promises that Georgia will eventually join NATO.

AP

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