NATO rebukes Russia as hostilities ease

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The NATO allies will put relations with Russia on a hold until Moscow withdraws it forces from Georgia.

20 August 2008

BRUSSELS - The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Tuesday suspended ties with Russia until Moscow withdraws its forces from Georgia, and the United States warned that Russia would not be allowed to re-establish Soviet-era borders.

There were signs of hostilities abating with Russian troops slowly withdrawing from undisputed parts of Georgia, but the 26-member NATO alliance strongly urged Russia to "take immediate action to withdraw its troops from the area."

"The NATO-Russia Council meetings would be placed on hold until Russia adhered to the ceasefire, and the future of our relations will depend on the concrete actions Russia will take to abide by the peace plan," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at a press conference.

"We are not closing doors. ... But we cannot continue with business as usual, ... as long as Russia does not commit to the principles upon which we agreed to base our relationship."

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement from the emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers that the military alliance was "not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe".

"It's time for the Russian president to keep his word to withdraw back to the status quo ante of August 6-7," before fighting broke out in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, Rice said.

By Tuesday evening, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promised that the withdrawal of his troops would be complete by Friday, with the exception of 500 troops as a security measure for the local population. Medvedev had first promised a withdrawal more than one week ago.

NATO decided to create a new commission for dialogue with membership-hopeful Georgia.

While welcoming the move, Georgia's Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze said that the NATO decision on Russia could not be an "isolated" statement and must mark the beginning of a political process within the alliance to make it clear to Moscow there will be a price to be paid for the invasion.

The UN Security Council in New York for the first time drew up a draft resolution to demand "full and immediate" compliance with the agreed ceasefire in the Caucasus conflict.

Defending its slow withdrawal, the Russian military said it was proceeding cautiously to avoid creating a power vacuum that could lead to further violence in northern Georgia.

"We clearly state that we will fulfil our obligations agreed to in the six-point plan, but we shall do so at a tempo dictated by conditions on the ground," Deputy Chief of Staff Anatoly Nogovytsyn said.

In a conciliatory step, Russia agreed to the stationing of 20 military observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to be deployed immediately to an area adjacent to South Ossetia.

After all the warnings, threats and promises, at the end of Tuesday, Russian troops remained fully in control of enclaves in the undisputed Georgian cities of Gori and Poti, with forward troops continuing to improve their positions.

Russian forces were permitting Georgian civilian vehicles and foot traffic along most but not all roads in their sectors of control, and were searching travellers for weapons.

Moscow released a list of Georgian military equipment captured in the conflict, including 65 tanks, more than 30 other armoured vehicles, Osa anti-aircraft systems, Czech-built self-propelled Howitzers and more than 2,000 rifles and machine guns.

"We will not give any of it back," said Ivan Konashekov, a Kremlin spokesman. "We will use it ourselves or destroy it."

Belgium’s stand
Belgium was one of the countries taking a more moderate stand at the meeting. Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht (Flemish liberal) said before the meeting that he wanted to keep communication channels with Russia open.

[ / dpa / Expatica]

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