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Russia Pulls Out Of NATO Meeting

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the NATO exercises could damage efforts to mend ties.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the NATO exercises could damage efforts to mend ties.

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Russia has pulled out of a meeting with NATO military commanders set for next month but said it would stick to plans to resume formal political ties, a Russian diplomat and a NATO spokeswoman said.

Russia's envoy to NATO warned on April 20 of a pullout if the U.S.-led alliance pressed ahead with planned exercises in Georgia, a former Soviet republic promised eventual alliance membership.

"We postponed the meeting of chiefs of staff," the Russian diplomat said, referring to a meeting scheduled for May 7 between the 28 NATO states and Russia. "We explained we should restart political dialogue before military cooperation."

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the Russian military representative had made no mention of Georgia in announcing the move. Russia fought a brief war there last August after Georgian government forces tried to retake a breakaway region that is backed by Moscow.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that a planned land exercise in Georgia involving 1,300 NATO and partner troops from 19 countries from May 6 to June 1 could damage efforts to mend ties.

Romero said the NATO invitation to the Russian chief of staff remained open, but the Russian side had explained that Moscow preferred at this stage to proceed with reengagement with NATO at the political level.

NATO froze formal relations with Russia and the work of a joint council that oversees operational matters between them in protest at Russia's intervention in Georgia last year.

Despite persisting differences, Russia and NATO have decided to resume the work of that body as part of efforts to "press the reset button" on ties with the arrival of U.S. President Barack Obama in office.

The council's first formal ambassadorial meeting since the resumption in ties is scheduled for April 29 and a ministerial meeting is planned for May 19.

NATO says the scenario for the planned exercise will be a fictitious UN-mandated, crisis-response operation and poses no security threat to Russia.

Russia has been greatly angered by NATO's offer of eventual membership for Georgia, seeing the ex-Soviet country as part of its sphere of influence. It describes the exercises as NATO support for Georgia, a crucial transit route for Caspian Sea oil and gas to Europe, and long controlled by Moscow.