Armenia to Join NATO Drills in Georgia

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenia will participate in NATO military exercises in Georgia next month despite fierce opposition to the drills echoed repeatedly by its main ally Russia, ArmRadio reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has warned that the planned May 6 to June 1 exercises risk further undermining stability in the troubled Caucasus region.

Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and the Secretary General of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, Nikolay Bordyuzha, have echoed Lavrov’s concerns. Both last week described the exercises as a provocation “targeted at aggravating the situation in the South Caucasus.

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.

But the US-led alliance has dismissed concerns, saying there is no connection with the drills and the situation in Georgia or the region. NATO last week confirmed it will be moving forward with its drills, which are expected to involve 1,300 troops from 19 countries and will take place just outside Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. The war games will include Albania, Armenia, Croatia, Georgia, Macedonia and the United Arab Emirates and are aimed at “improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries.”

Moscow on Tuesday, meanwhile, pulled out of a meeting of NATO military commanders set for next month but said it would stick to plans to resume formal political ties, Reuters reported.

Russia’s envoy to NATO warned a day earlier that it would pull-out of the U.S.-led alliance if it pressed ahead with planned exercises in Georgia.

Russia has stationed its forces just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the Georgian capital. And in recent weeks, it has sent even more troops and armored vehicles to within striking distance of the city ahead of street protests against Georgia’s president.

The ongoing protests, which began April 9, drew about 10,000 people Tuesday and opposition leaders said they would continue daily until President Mikhail Saakashvili resigned.

The demonstrations have been fueled by public anger over Georgia’s humiliating defeat in the August war with Russia, which Saakasvhili launched in an attempt to regain control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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