NATO to Create Foothold in Georgia

NATO will as early as this Monday create its first foothold in Georgia, Gazeta has learned. The move deals a blow to the Kremlin's ambitions that the Russian Foreign Minister spoke about in Warsaw yesterday.

After crushing Georgia in the August war and recognising the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two rebellious Georgian provinces, Russia is holding out its hand to the West, persuading it to pretend nothing has really happened.

'The Tbilisi regime itself gave up on Georgia's territorial integrity. We call our partners to follow Russia's example and acknowledge the new realities', Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov wrote in yesterday's article for Gazeta. His words were directed at the West as a whole. Moscow wants it to recognise the entire post-Soviet area as Russia's exclusive zone of influence.

In public, Russian diplomats prefer to put it more mildly. 'We want to deepen our relations with countries that Russia has traditionally been friends with. We oppose pulling these countries into the Nato against their will', Mr Lavrov spoke of Georgia and Ukraine in Warsaw yesterday.

Mr Lavrov came to Warsaw despite the tension left by the Georgian war, even though the Russian Foreign Ministry initially signalled the visit could be cancelled. He wanted to show that Russia wants to return to normality in, above all, its relations with the EU. And it was no accident he had chosen Poland as the destination of his first visit to the West after the end of the hostilities in Georgia.

In Moscow's intention, the talks in Poland, which loudly defended Georgia during the Russian aggression, were to show the world that the Kremlin is not a monster and that its appetites are much lesser than former Soviet Union's voraciousness. And that if the West doesn't provoke Russia, it will content itself with domination in the former Soviet republics.

'There are differences in the perception of the war between Russia and the EU, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be collaborating', Mr Lavrov stressed. His whipping boy during the press conference with his Polish counterpart, Radosław Sikorski, were not Poland or Europe, but the US.

'It's America that's undermining the arms balance, posing a threat to Europe's security', Mr Lavrov said yesterday.

But Moscow, which us trying to divide the Atlantic community, suffered a blow yesterday. The unexpectedly swift decision to set up a Nato-Georgia commission means a rejection of the 'compromise' being offered by Russia.

'We believe Nato membership can actually tone down international tensions', Mr Sikorski responded to Mr Lavrov's protestations against Nato's eastward enlargement.

The Nato ambassadors, who will inaugurate the commission this Monday, will fly to Tbilisi aboard a Polish government plane, emphasising Poland's role in defending Georgia from Russia.

It is for the first time that such a high-ranking Nato body will meet in Georgia, and that just a month after the clash with Russia.

'We perceive such a high-level visit as military and political support for the Saakashvili regime', Russian Ambassador to Nato Dmitri Rogozin thundered yesterday.

The commission will allow the alliance to more quickly and effectively help Georgia rebuild itself and its military infrastructure from the war damage.

'We won't give the Georgians arms, but we will help them to develop their own military potential', Nato spokesman James Appathurai said yesterday.

[Source: By Tomasz Bielecki, Jacek Pawlicki, Gazeta Wyborcza, Pol, 12Sep08]

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