Moscow says NATO 'protecting' Georgia's Saakashvili

Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov said Tuesday that NATO had taken Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili under its protection.

NATO foreign ministers said after talks earlier Tuesday that the alliance was freezing contacts with Russia until it pulled its troops out of Georgia.

"The North Atlantic Treaty Organization has in fact taken Saakashvili under its protection," Lavrov said, adding that NATO had taken a biased position on the conflict in South Ossetia.

He said getting Georgia involved in NATO activities results from anti-Russian sentiments in the military alliance.

Lavrov said the encouragement for Georgia joining NATO "is dictated by an intention which I cannot describe as being anything but anti-Russian and supportive of the aggressive regime."

He warned that Moscow would draw appropriate conclusions from NATO's pro-Georgian stance.

"To be sure, there will be consequences. There will evidently be no business as usual, as we said a week ago... I think that we will draw appropriate conclusions," he said.

He said the Russia-NATO Council was not established to "lecture to Russia" on how to behave with regard to Georgia, but to ensure security in Europe and the Euro-Atlantic region.

He stressed that Russia stands by the six-point peace plan and will fully comply with it.

Russia came under severe criticism from NATO countries, notably the United States and Britain, after its major operation to expel Georgian forces from South Ossetia, and its peace enforcement mission in areas of Georgia proper.

A joint declaration after the NATO ministerial talks in Brussels said: "We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual" with Russia, and that the alliance "is considering seriously the implications of Russia's actions for the NATO-Russia relationship."

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said: "The future of our relations with Russia will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to abide by the words of President Dmitry Medvedev... which is not happening at the moment."

Russian troops are widely reported to remain in parts of Georgia, including the town of Gori, despite a pledge by President Medvedev that they would begin pulling out from the South Caucasus state on Monday.

Scheffer said the bloc had suspended Russia-NATO Council sessions at all levels until Moscow fully complies with the peace plan.

Lavrov said he agreed with the NATO chief's assessment that "business as usual" could not continue. "We said this a week ago - when NATO representatives came forward with biased assessments, we made the necessary conclusions."

"NATO is trying to turn an aggressor into a victim, is attempting to whitewash a criminal regime and save a fallen regime, and is taking a course toward re-arming the current Georgian leaders," the diplomat said.

Georgia's bid to join NATO was rebuffed at the alliance's April summit in Bucharest. However, the NATO ministers on Tuesday decided to create a joint NATO-Georgia commission similar to that already in place with Ukraine, and reaffirmed their plans to eventually accept Georgia as a NATO member.

Soon after the NATO declaration, Russia announced that it would not participate in the NATO-led Open Spirit 2008 naval exercise in the Baltic Sea, and would refuse to receive a U.S. warship in the Far East port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

[Source: Novosti, Moscow, 19Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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