Russia will pull out of a meeting with senior NATO military officials to protest what its envoy described Monday as "provocative war games" planned by the alliance in Georgia. "If there will be no reaction (to a Russian complaint about the exercises) we will take certain measures. I can reveal one of them now: the meeting of the commanders of the general staffs of Russia and NATO, planned for May 7, will not take place," the envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, said in an interview with Vesti-24 television, quoted by the Interfax news agency. Read AFP full report.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan refused to take part in NATO-organized war games in Georgia in a show of support for Russia. "No, we will not take part," Defense Minister Danial Akhmetov told reporters "We are too busy. Yes, it’s our final decision."- Reuters reports.
Interestingly, While keeping close contacts with Russia, Kazakhstan has promoted its role as Washington’s key ally in Central Asia. Kazakhstan allowed overflights of its territory during the U.S.-led war in nearby Afghanistan and has sought to forge closer ties with NATO by holding joint military exercises and suggesting it could buy military hardware from NATO countries. Even more, kazakhstan backed Russia’s actions in Georgia during the August war but refused to follow Moscow in recognizing the independence of Georgia’s rebel regions.
In Brussels, NATO said that it had not been informed about Russia’s plan to cancel the meeting of top military brass and that it would push on with the exercises in Georgia. "As far as NATO is concerned, nothing has changed. The chiefs of defence meeting will take place and Russia remains invited. It is their decision to attend or not," a NATO spokesman said, AFP reports.
Rogozin blasted the exercises as "provocative" but did not say whether Moscow would scuttle a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council — the highest-level body linking Russia and the alliance — expected to take place in May or June.
Russia and Georgia have been at loggerheads since fighting a brief war in August, and Moscow has been extremely wary of any cooperation between NATO and the pro-Western government in Tbilisi.
"From Russia’s point of view, and from Georgia’s point of view, and from the viewpoint of world affairs, such war games carry a clearly provocative character," Rogozin said.
Washington described Russia’s threatened move as unfortunate.
"If it’s true, it’s unfortunate," State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters, adding: "These exercises were long planned."
Wood said he did not have confirmation of any Russian decision.
The exercises, which have been planned since the spring of 2008, were originally expected to involve 1,300 personnel from 19 NATO and partner countries.
Earlier on Monday, Kazakhstan, an ally of Russia as well as a partner in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme, pulled out of the exercises, which are to be held at a training centre 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Tbilisi.
"Planning for the exercise — of which Russia have been fully informed since planning began a year ago — continues," the NATO spokesman said.
He said that the meeting of top NATO and Russian brass is an "informal meeting for them to prepare future engagements."
Formal high-level contacts between Russia and NATO only resumed recently after being frozen by NATO in the wake of last summer’s war in Georgia.
Analysts say that the exercises come at an awkward time, given that Moscow’s relations with the West have been improving since the inauguration of US President Barack Obama.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has called the exercises a "dangerous decision" that would threaten Moscow’s relations with NATO.
Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, speaking at a press conference in Stockholm on Monday, said it was his country’s right as a sovereign state to host the exercises.
"I am not very much interested in Russia’s reaction to those exercises because it is a constitutional and sovereign right of Georgia to hold exercises… together with whom ever it pleases us," Vashadze said.