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NATO Tells Moscow To Keep Its Word In Georgia, Or Face The Music

  • Ahto Lobjakas

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer speaking to the press after the meeting in Brussels

NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer speaking to the press after the meeting in Brussels

BRUSSELS -- NATO has come close to delivering an ultimatum to Moscow -- pull out of Georgia or face the music.

The precise nature of the proverbial music has yet to be decided, however. NATO said it will suspend the meetings of the NATO-Russia Council and may in future freeze some or all military cooperation projects.

Predictions of a clash between U.S.-led "hawks" in Eastern Europe and Western European "doves" failed to materialize. NATO diplomats say Russia's repeated failure to honor the terms of the cease-fire and pull its troops out of Georgia are viewed with growing concern by all allies. France, a leading dove, which as the current holder of the EU Presidency negotiated the cease-fire, also appears to fear a loss of face.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer made clear after the meeting that what is at stake is Russia's credibility as an international partner to NATO and other Western organizations.

"I am ready to discuss anything and everything, but not under circumstances where Russian forces are occupying a greater part of Georgia, not under circumstances where Russian forces are not withdrawing as the Russian president promised," de Hoop Scheffer said. "What is a promise worth, made on paper and made in different contacts with allied leaders, when that promise is not fulfilled?"

De Hoop Scheffer said the NATO-Russia Council will hold no further meetings until Russian troops leave Georgia proper. He indicated the freeze is likely to affect ongoing military cooperation projects.

Reaching Out To Tbilisi

As it effectively froze ties with Russia, the alliance upgraded ties with Georgia by announcing the creation of a NATO-Georgia Council. NATO will also send civilian and military assessment teams to Georgia to take stock of the damage caused by the Russian forces. The teams will focus on roads, communications, hospitals, water provision, and other civilian amenities.

But, one official said, NATO may also opt to rebuild some of Georgia's military infrastructure, too.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Brussels
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed up the results of the meeting by saying that the United States "got all, everything we sought."

She praised the "very strong language" of the NATO declaration as the united resolve of the allies to ensure that Russia honors its cease-fire commitments.

Rice said Russia's "strategic objective" in Georgia is to undermine the country's democracy and make it weaker by threatening its territorial integrity.

Both de Hoop Scheffer and Rice said NATO stands by its promise of eventual membership for Georgia, made at the Bucharest summit in April this year.

"This alliance, NATO, having come so far after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in achieving a Europe that is whole, free and at peace, is not going to permit a new line to be drawn in Europe, a line between those who were fortunate enough to make it into the trans-Atlantic structures and those who still aspire to those transatlantic structures," Rice said.

France was also very critical of Russia's failure to honor the deal negotiated by its President Nicolas Sarkozy last week.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Moscow must keep its word or accept that its actions in Georgia will have consequences for Russia's relationship with both NATO and the EU.

Kouchner said the EU -- which last week held an emergency foreign ministers meeting -- may soon convene an extraordinary summit to work out a tougher EU response.

"We [are ready], and President Sarkozy has raised this prospect, the prospect of convening a European Council in the coming days, if necessary, to adopt a stronger and more determined attitude of the 27 [members of the EU]."

Kouchner was uncompromising in his defense of the terms of the cease-fire negotiated by France -- which has come under heavy criticism from a number of allies as too partial to Russian interests. "We were lucky to get the cease-fire, let me tell you," Kouchner said, "[or] Tbilisi would have been captured."

Kouchner praised an OSCE deal to send up to 100 military observers to Georgia, but indicated their deployment in areas close to South Ossetia could be problematic. He said the monitors' movements will need to be "authorized" by Russian peacekeepers in the area, adding that the peacekeepers can be "difficult."

NATO ambassadors are to meet in Tbilisi in mid-September.
Crisis In Georgia
For RFE/RL's full coverage of the conflict that began in Georgia's breakway region of South Ossetia, click here.