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NATO mulls response as Russia accuses it over Georgia PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 20 September 2008

AFP, LONDON  - NATO ministers grappled Friday with how to respond to what it said was Russia's aggression in Georgia, as Moscow accused the alliance of triggering last month's conflict.

As NATO defence ministers held behind-closed-door talks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated support for the ex-Soviet republic, after talks with visiting Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze.
 
"We have been able to say to him that we are in full support of the territorial integrity of Georgia and we will be giving financial and economic support to Georgia, and urging other countries to do so," said Brown.
 
"We will be working with our European partners to ensure that there is sufficient support for the reconstruction of Georgia," he added.
 
Georgian efforts to become part of NATO have infuriated Russia, which objects to the prospect of its old Cold War foe extending to its borders.
 
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, in the latest barb in the escalating war of words, said NATO had "provoked the conflict" between Russia and Georgia last month.
 
"We are being pushed... behind an Iron Curtain. I would like to underline again that this is not our path. There is no sense for us in returning to the past," said Medvedev.
 
The NATO talks were originally intended to discuss the US-led alliance's continuing transformation from the West's Cold War military bloc to an increasingly flexible regional security organisation.
 
But the brief Georgia-Russia war last month overshadowed the talks, attended by 27 ministers including US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, on the last leg of a trip which has taken him to Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The conflict has chilled Russia's relations with the West to a degree not seen since the Cold War.
 
On Thursday both NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates spoke cautiously of how to respond to Russia following the conflict last month.
 
De Hoop Scheffer said he foresaw "no U-turn in NATO policy" despite uncertainty about Russian intentions and said the Georgia conflict would not be resolved "if we seek to punish Russia".
 
Gates, meanwhile, urged NATO to avoid provocation in its response to Russia, adding he thought concern among members on the issue "has more to do with pressure and intimidation than it does any prospect of real military action."
 
He added: "I think we need to proceed with some caution because there is clearly a range of views in the alliance about how to respond, from some of our friends in the Baltics and eastern Europe to some of the countries in western Europe."
 
The NATO meeting was also expected to air differences over NATO's transformation strategy that seeks to create light, expeditionary forces capable of responding to conflicts in distant places such as Afghanistan.
 
British Defence Secretary Des Browne lamented that there "remains a mismatch between our aspirations and what we actually deliver" and added that the NATO response force was "not getting the forces or capabilities that it needs."
 
Brown meanwhile told Sky News television that supporting Georgian and Ukrainian membership to NATO was "the right thing to do."
 
He added: If a sovereign country, free to make its own decisions, wishes to be part of a democratic group that has quite clear principles attached to its membership then we should be prepared to look at that."

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