NATO backs Georgia but no firm invitation to join

17:37, 15 September 2008
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Scheffer shied away from giving any commitment to Georgia

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer condemned Russia`s military action against Georgia but shied away from giving any commitment to the ex-Soviet state on when it will be invited to join the military alliance, according to Reuters.

In Brussels, the European Commission announced 500 million euros (391 million pounds) over two years in aid to help Georgia rebuild after its brief war with Russia last month, and EU foreign ministers prepared to rubber-stamp the deployment of at least 200 EU ceasefire monitors to Georgia.

De Hoop Scheffer was in Tbilisi to underscore NATO support for Georgia after a five-day war in which Russia drew Western condemnation by sending in troops to crush a Georgian attempt to retake the rebel South Ossetia region.

But he made no mention of whether Georgia will be given a Membership Action Plan -- a roadmap for accession -- when NATO meets for a summit in December. Alliance members are split over the wisdom of admitting Georgia in the near future.

"Russia`s use of force was disproportionate and Russia must now comply with all elements of the six-point plan brokered by French President Sarkozy," de Hoop Scheffer said, referring to a ceasefire agreement France brokered on behalf of the EU.

"At the same time, despite the difficult situation, we expect Georgia to firmly stay the course of democracy and reform," the NATO chief told a meeting of ambassadors of the 26 NATO countries in a Tbilisi hotel.

"Dedication to these fundamental values remains essential for Georgia on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration."

REBEL REGION

Signalling Russia`s weight in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday was in South Ossetia, where Russia plans to station thousands of troops.

He said discussion of Georgia in international organisations was futile unless South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a second rebel region, were represented. Russia recognised the two regions as independent states, in defiance of the West.

De Hoop Scheffer and NATO ambassadors were in Tbilisi for the inaugural session of the NATO-Georgia Commission, conceived in the aftermath of the conflict to bolster ties with Tbilisi.

But the meeting is unlikely to bridge differences between members states about whether to go beyond a vague commitment issued this year that Georgia and fellow ex-Soviet state Ukraine will eventually be admitted.

Some members are wary of further antagonising Russia and have qualms about Georgia`s conduct in the conflict.

There are also reservations inside the alliance about Georgia`s democratic credentials, after a disputed presidential election, the brief closure of an independent television station and a police crackdown on an opposition rally last year.

"Your presence sends a powerful signal to our people and the peoples of the world that Georgia, together with its friends and allies, does not stand alone," Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the North Atlantic Council.

In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper, the NATO chief appeared to criticise the EU by saying it was "unacceptable" Russian troops were staying inside South Ossetia and Abkhazia under the EU-brokered ceasefire deal.

A NATO spokesman later said de Hoop Scheffer was taking issue with Russia`s implementation of the agreement, not the ceasefire deal itself.

MARKET JITTERS

Moscow said it was morally obliged to take military action to prevent a genocide against the separatists by a Georgian government it said was egged on by the United States.

Russia last week agreed to pull hundreds of soldiers from `security zones` inside undisputed Georgian territory within a month. But Moscow plans to station around 7,600 troops - more than twice the pre-war levels - in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russian financial markets and the rouble have fallen sharply since the war. The fall is driven largely by global economic turmoil but also by investor concerns that Medvedev`s liberal economic programme is being eclipsed by Kremlin hawks.

Addressing Russian business leaders in the Kremlin, Medvedev said that would not happen. "We do not need militarisation of the economy or a statist economy," he said. "No one should count on a change in direction."

Russia`s intervention in Georgia drew no direct sanctions -- in part because for many Western states Russia is the main supplier of oil and gas.

Reuters

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