NATO Chief To Head To Riga For Baltic Talks On Russia,Georgia

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will travel to Latvia Friday for talks with foreign ministers from the Baltic states, amid concern there about Russia's actions in Georgia.

De Hoop Scheffer, who will also watch over a North Atlantic Treaty Organization naval exercise "Open Spirit 2008", is to hold private talks in the capital Riga with the foreign ministers of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, his spokesman said Thursday.

"They are there to have private discussions, so it is of substance," spokesman James Appathurai told reporters in Brussels, but he played down concerns about tensions between the three states and Russia.

"They are not there to discuss an emergency plan against possible attack, that is not the climate in which we find ourselves and we should avoid getting carried away," he said.

"Nobody is talking about an imminent Russian attack in the Baltic states."

The three states, plus Poland, have been among the staunchest allies of Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili since Russian troops entered the former Soviet republic last month in a reprisal attack over rebel South Ossetia.

Russia's conflict with Georgia has had strong repercussions in the Baltics.

Estonia, Lithuania and fellow Baltic state Latvia were seized by Moscow during World War II, after the Soviets and Nazis cut a deal to carve up eastern Europe.

They were occupied by the Nazis from 1941-1944 after Germany turned on its erstwhile ally, and then grabbed again by Moscow as the Red Army drove out German forces.

Like Georgia, all three won independence in 1991 when the communist bloc collapsed.

The Baltic states are now firmly anchored in the West - they joined NATO and the European Union in 2004 - and have pressed fellow members to get tough with Russia over Georgia.

[Source: AFP, Brussels, 11Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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