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Russia's Lavrov Drops NATO Talks Over Expulsions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has dropped plans to attend a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council this month in protest at NATO's expulsion of Russian diplomats, a diplomatic source has said.

"It's not the right time for such meetings," said the diplomatic source. "There will not be any [Russian ministerial] visit or participation at events in Brussels in the nearest future."

The source said Lavrov had never formally confirmed his attendance at the talks, which were pencilled in for either May 18 or 19.

Diplomatic sources told Reuters the planned expulsion of two Russian diplomats from NATO's Brussels-based headquarters changed the climate and talks could not now go ahead.

Russia had already pulled out of a planned meeting among senior military staff on May 7 in protest at NATO war games that are due to start in Georgia on May 6.

The Russia-NATO Council was suspended after August's Georgia war but the ministerial meeting was to have been the culmination of a gradual restoration in contacts over recent months.

The Belgian government has asked Russia when two diplomats expelled by NATO over a spy scandal will be leaving their posts, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

NATO, whose headquarters are in Brussels, expelled the two men on Apirl 29, the same day the military alliance held its first formal talks with Russia for eight months.

The expulsion row and the NATO war games in Georgia have muddied separate efforts by Moscow and Washington to improve relations soured partially by NATO's interest in admitting ex-Soviet states like Georgia and Ukraine as members.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has complained about NATO's "muscle-flexing" over the military exercises involving 1,300 troops from the 28-member organization and partner countries in NATO aspirant Georgia.