Georgian NATO entry may spark Russian war - Schroeder

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder warned NATO on Thursday that allowing aspiring member Georgia, with its "unpredictable" leader, to join the defence alliance could lead to an armed conflict with Russia.

Schroeder, a close personal friend of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said he had been shocked at the one-sided approach western nations had taken in their dealings with Russia over its conflict with Georgia.

"Whoever brings Georgia into NATO must know that in light of -- I will put this politely -- the unpredictable nature of the current leadership and an encirclement policy (towards Russia) which is supported by the United States -- NATO could end up getting entangled in a conflict," said Schroeder.

"What that would mean -- both historically and for the development of future relations -- for German soldiers to participate in such a conflict must be stated openly," said the Social Democrat in a speech at an energy conference.

His stance is at odds with that of conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, with other European Union members, has condemned Russia's military response against Georgia in South Ossetia as disproportionate.

Schroeder also said ensuring energy supplies to Europe was important but that a multilateral approach, including Russia, was needed.

"Plans ... to make energy policy a task for NATO are absurd and would lead us into an extraordinarily difficult security and foreign policy situation," he said.

Germany relies on Russia for about 44 percent of its gas imports and Schroeder said it was important that energy routes to the country were renewed and extended.

Schroeder developed a close relationship with Putin during his 7 years as chancellor and is chairman of a German-Russian consortium that is building a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea.

Schroeder has previously urged the EU to pursue a "strategic partnership" deal with Moscow, arguing Europe risks losing influence if it does not work with Russia.

[Source: By Madeline Chambers, Reuters, Berlin, 25Sep08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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