NATO, Russia go head to head over Georgia

(dpa) - NATO and Russian diplomats clashed on Tuesday over the recent conflict in would-be NATO member Georgia, as Russia accused NATO of Cold War thinking and NATO challenged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to pull his troops out of Georgia.

NATO "is 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 in the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia broke out, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said after a meeting with NATO counterparts.

"What is a promise worth when it is not fulfilled?" NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer added, again referring to an EU-brokered ceasefire deal signed by Medvedev on August 12. NATO officials say Russia is breaking the truce.

At the emergency meeting, the foreign ministers of NATO's 26 member states agreed not to hold any more sessions of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC, the main platform for NATO-Russia dialogue) until Russian troops pull out of Georgia, and decided to create a new commission for dialogue with membership hopeful Georgia.

"Russian military action has been disproportionate and inconsistent with its peacekeeping role, as well as incompatible with the principles of peaceful conflict resolution. ... We cannot continue with business as usual," a joint statement after the meeting said.

But Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, hit back strongly, accusing the US of helping Georgia plan its attack on South Ossetia, de Hoop Scheffer of acting as a US pawn and NATO as a whole of keeping a Cold War mentality.

"Today NATO demonstrated that it originated in and it is still from the time of the Cold War, it doesn't matter what their propaganda says," he said.

"(Georgian President Mikheil) Saakashvili got the right to start a war against the small people of South Ossetia just because Georgia had NATO aspirations," he added. Saakashvili is a war criminal with as little right to join NATO as Hitler or Saddam Hussein, he said.

"The US was greatly involved in the preparation of this Georgian aggression ... and here in Brussels they were afraid to engage in a frank discussion with Russia in the presence of their European allies," he said.

In April, NATO leaders agreed that Georgia and Ukraine should join the alliance at an unspecified future point. The alliance's foreign ministers are set to discuss the issue further in December.

But immediately after the decision, which Russia criticized as a threat to its security, tensions between Georgia and its breakaway provinces flared dramatically. The tensions culminated in a Georgian attack on South Ossetia on August 7 and a Russian military response which pushed well into Georgian territory.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy to bring about a ceasefire, said Tuesday that "if the European Union had not moved, Tbilisi would have been captured."

Rogozin rejected that claim, saying that " Russia's actions were never intended to destroy, occupy or force regime change in Georgia."

And while de Hoop Scheffer said that NATO would not call any further NRC meetings until Russia pulls its troops out of Georgia, Rogozin retorted that it would be up to NATO to return to talks.

"We will keep our very good bilateral contacts (with NATO members) ... and hopefully there will be a better time sooner or later when NATO understands that the world is very vulnerable and that bloc approaches are no longer possible," he said.

He also insisted that the row was not about to plumb the depths it saw during the Cold War.

"It's clear ( Russia's relationship with NATO) won't stay as it was before, there will be a lot of changes in the volume, quality and time-frame of our meetings. This situation will change but there will be no Cold War," he said.

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