Moscow Demands NATO Postpone Georgia Drills

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YEREVAN–Russia has demanded NATO postpone plans to carry out military exercises in Georgia next month, saying they will complicate tensions in the region, the BBC reported on Thursday

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Thursday the planned May 6 to June 1 exercises risk further undermining stability in the troubled Caucasus region and were “unlikely to send the right signal to those sincerely wishing to achieve stability” in the region. He spoke on the sidelines of a meeting of foreign ministers of Black Sea countries in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Moscow has pointed to tensions with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Georgian breakaway regions, as well as ongoing protests against Georgia’s president, as reasons to delay the exercises.

The military alliance said the exercises, which are expected to involve 1,300 troops from 19 countries, will take place just outside Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital are aimed at “improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries.”

The countries taking part include Albania, Armenia, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates.

Lavrov warned NATO members on Thursday not to co-operate with the government of Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, who is regarded with great suspicion by Russia.

“I hope that the NATO countries will shun steps planned for future cooperation with Georgia;that could again push the Georgian regime towards an attitude of permissiveness and impunity,” he said.

Robert Pszczel, a NATO spokesman, said the drills would be essentially coordination exercises, involving “no heavy military equipment.”

“There is no controversy, no surprise and no connection with the situation in Georgia or in the region,” he said.

Moscow’s envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the plans were “absurd and a provocation” in the light of tensions with the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia–which Russia has recognized as independent–as well as opposition protests against Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

Rogozin said the exercises could be exploited by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in his stand-off with opposition parties, which have recently held a series of mass protests demanding his resignation.

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