Russia freezes military cooperation with NATO

August 22nd, 2008 - 1:54 am ICT by IANS  

Moscow/ Brussels, Aug 21 (DPA) Russia has frozen its relations with NATO in a rift with Western governments over its military conflict with Georgia, a NATO spokesman said Thursday.”We have received formal notification via military channels that Russia has decided to halt international military cooperation events until further notice,” NATO deputy spokeswoman Carmen Romero told DPA in Brussels.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied earlier Thursday that Moscow had any plans to “slam the door” on NATO in anger over its criticism of Russia’s military occupation of Georgia.

But Lavrov’s statement also emphasized Moscow’s assurance in its military action. The ball was in NATO’s court with respect to future relations with Russia, he said.

“Everything depends on NATO priorities: the priority is for unconditional support of (Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili), then we won’t be to blame for the bankrupting of the alliance’s relations with Russia,” he said.

Moscow’s break with NATO appeared to have been decided on Wednesday in an instant retaliation for the alliance’s sharp criticism of Russia’s continued military presence in Georgia.

Lavrov accused the alliance of “bias” Wednesday and the Norwegian Defence Ministry said Moscow had informed it of plans to “freeze all military cooperation” with the alliance.

Lavrov was at pains to stress that cooperation with NATO was a two-way street Thursday.

“Russia, no less than NATO, relies on this mutual cooperation … NATO is much more in need of Russia’s support of its military actions in Afghanistan, where NATO’s fate appears to be in the balance,” Lavrov was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying in Sochi.

A freeze of Moscow military cooperation with NATO would affect 10 joint exercise, which recently included work on detecting explosives and allowing NATO free passage through Russian territory for its operations in Afghanistan.

NATO “takes note” of the decision, but insists that it will not be able to continue business as usual with Russia until Moscow withdraws from Georgian soil in compliances with the terms of a ceasefire that ended 10 days of fighting, the alliance spokeswoman said.

The tit-for-tat refusals to cooperate mark the lowest point in NATO-Russia relations since the foundation of the NATO-Russia Council, a body which was meant to improve dialogue between the Cold War foes, in 2002.

Moscow was furthered angered over NATO ministers agreement to tighten ties with Georgia in anticipation of its future membership, which Russia vehemently opposes as a security threat.

However, both sides have also stressed that they are keen to resume cooperation as soon as the other proves more tractable, in an apparent attempt to limit the diplomatic fallout of the conflict.

Russia’s military, meanwhile, reiterated promises to pull back its troops to a buffer zone along Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia Friday.

“The withdrawal has started at a pace that will have all the Russian Federation’s forces behind the line of our zone of responsibility by the end of Aug 22,” Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian army general staff, told a briefing in Moscow.

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