NATO to offer assistance to Georgia
At its emergency meeting Tuesday, the alliance plans to review ties with Russia
NATO ministers will offer support to Georgia and review ties with Russia following its "excessive use of force" in the Caucasus, officials at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels said Monday.
At an emergency meeting Tuesday, requested by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the foreign ministers of the 26-member alliance are to call on Russia to withdraw its troops from Georgia.
A Membership Action Plan (MAP) -- the precursor to NATO membership -- for Georgia is not on the agenda, but ministers are expected to reaffirm that the former Soviet republic should be invited to join in the future, as agreed at NATO summit in Bucharest in April.
Russia is strongly opposed to NATO membership for Georgia and for Ukraine, which also aims to join.
The allies would send out a "very clear message of solidarity" to Georgia and agree on "a package of measures to assist and support" Georgia following the conflict, NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said.
Practical measures under consideration include sending a team of experts to assess the damage caused to Georgia's infrastructure, energy supplies, transport sector, health care and food distribution.
Another area of cooperation could involve rebuilding Georgia's military forces and infrastructure, senior US officials said.
Rice will also ask ministers to discuss the long-term impact of Russia's military intervention on its relationship with the alliance.
"Our objective is to work together with Russia ... but that's got to be based on Russia respecting the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of its neighbors and not using its military force to impose its will on those countries," US officials said.
Since 2002, NATO and Russia have been cooperating through the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) but no high-level NRC meetings have been convened since the conflict erupted.
"We are not seeking to freeze or break off the NRC ... but neither can we have business as usual with Russian forces on the ground," US officials said.
Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said there was no longer any purpose to the special session of the NRC that Moscow called for a week ago to explain its view of the conflict.
"It doesn't make any sense now -- it's like waiting a week for the emergency doctor," Rogozin told the Interfax news agency in Moscow.
Wanting Georgia in
At Tuesday's meeting, ministers were to be briefed by their Finnish colleague, Alexander Stubb, whose country currently chairs the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE), which has about 200 observers in Georgia.
After a meeting in Riga on Monday, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus urged the ministers to offer Georgia and Ukraine MAPs, citing "the uncontrolled violence and use of force in Georgia."
A NATO MAP for the two countries was "the only means to stabilize the region and bring security to ordinary people," they said.
Hungarian Defense Minister Imre Szekeres and US Ambassador to Budapest April H. Foley said Georgia should be allowed to join the Western alliance after meeting Monday in Szolnok in central Hungary.
Latvia also urged NATO to admit Georgia. "We support offering a MAP to Georgia as soon as possible," Andris Pelss, a foreign policy adviser to Latvian president, told DPA.
In a phone call with US President George W. Bush, Latvian President Valdis Zatlers called on NATO to take "a strong stance" on the conflict at the emergency ministers' meeting.
Sweden, which is not a NATO member, said Monday it would freeze military cooperation with Russia in protest at the conflict.
"During the current crisis the government says that until further notice it will not conduct military maneuvers with Russia or visit Russian military units," Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that Russian troops withdraw "without delay," adding that "this point is not negotiable in my eyes" in an article published in the daily Le Figaro Monday.
Sarkozy warned that he would call an emergency meeting of the European Union's highest political body if Moscow did not comply.
"If this clause of the ceasefire accord is not applied rapidly and totally, I would summon an extraordinary European Council to decide what consequences to draw," Sarkozy said. France currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.
No sign of pullout
Russia's military pledged to begin withdrawing from Georgia on Monday. Under the French-brokered ceasefire, President Dmitry Medvedev promised Sarkozy that troops would start moving out by noon.
But late in the day there was no sign of a pullout. A DPA correspondent found Russian troops entrenched at checkpoints along the east-west highway from Tbilisi to Gori in central Georgia.
No military vehicles were seen moving back in the direction of Tskhinvali, capital of the breakaway region of South Ossetia.
In Moscow, Medvedev made a toughly worded speech to World War II veterans in the Russian city of Kursk.
"We shall never let anyone kill our citizens with impunity," he said. "Those who try will face a crushing response."
"Russia has the economic, political and military capacity for such a response, and no one should have any illusions on that score," he added.
Water, electricity patchy
In Gori, where Russia's front lines still stood Monday evening, the city's few remaining residents crowded around food aid distribution points as stores stood closed and electricity and water was patchy.
Ethnic Georgian refugees fleeing reprisal violence in South Ossetia were being bused into Gori Monday by the Russian military, and international aid organizations were reportedly being waved past Russian checkpoints into the occupied territory.
Eduard Kokoity, the pro-Russian president of South Ossetia, on Monday dismissed his government and proclaimed a state of emergency.
"I have signed three decrees, including one on the resignation of the government, another on proclamation of a state of emergency in South Ossetia and the third on setting up an emergency committee to settle the consequences of Georgian aggression," Eduard Kokoity told Russia's Vesti-24 television.