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Russia takes formal control of Georgia rebel borders

NATO and Russia formally resume dialogue
NATO and Russia resumed formal contacts Wednesday, eight months after they were suspended because of the brief Russia-Georgia war last year, though old differences were to the fore. Both sides at the ambassador-level talks of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) showed a strong desire to revive a key arms treaty at the revived talks, alliance spokesman James Appathurai said However Russia's ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin sounded far less upbeat after the talks at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

"The spirit of partnership is not made through slogans but real action," he told reporters after the talks with fellow ambassadors from the 28 NATO nations. Moscow is particularly annoyed at NATO plans to hold military exercises in Georgia from next month. Speaking of NATO's "political blindness", he declared that "this only confirms that the spirit of the Cold War is still alive." Earlier in the day NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer warned that while formal talks with Russia were being resumed that did not mean they would be plain sailing.

"The NATO-Russia Council (NRC) is not a fair weather body," Scheffer told reporters ahead of the NRC talks. Wednesday's meeting paves the way for a ministerial level meeting of the NRC -- the forum where the world's biggest military alliance and Moscow work together on security challenges and air their many differences -- scheduled for May 19, also in Brussels. NATO froze high-level contacts with Moscow last year to protest Russia's short war in August with Georgia, a former Soviet republic that has sought admission to the alliance.

The decision to resume formal ties was taken in March. Since then there have been some unofficial meetings but now Russia and NATO are resuming their formal talks in the council. "There are a number of issues we should not shy away from discussing," added Scheffer, citing in particular the territorial integrity of Georgia and the future of the Conventional forces in Europe Treaty. After its brief war in Georgia Russia recognised the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent.

Rogozin said Wednesday that NATO's decision to hold military exercises, both real and virtual, in Georgia were "specifically designed to show that South Ossetia and Abkhazia do not have the right to exist as sovereign states". "We are not convinced by the argument that the exercises were planned long ago and that they do not affect security." NATO's Appathurai insisted that "one area where there seems to be a new energy is maybe the Conventional forces in Europe Treaty". In 2007 Moscow suspended its participation in the 1990 conventional forces treaty which limits non-nuclear arms. Rogozin would only say that the matter had been raised.

by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) May 1, 2009
Russia on Thursday took formal control of the borders of Georgia's separatist zones and slammed NATO exercises due in the country, as a spy row created new frictions between Moscow and the alliance.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev inked the border defence treaties with the leaders of the Moscow-backed rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in a sombre Kremlin ceremony.

NATO, the Czech EU presidency and the United States voiced dismay at the accords, saying they breached an EU-brokered Russia-Georgia ceasefire deal agreed last August.

Under the pact, effective for 10 years, Russia assumes immediate responsibility for guarding the regions' de facto borders with Georgia, including maritime patrols of Abkhazia's strategic Black Sea coast.

Medvedev called the signing a "crucial political act" and said it would be "a key factor for establishing security on our borders and in the whole of the Caucasus".

It comes just one week before NATO holds what it describes as anti-terrorist exercises in Georgia, in the face of vociferous Russian opposition.

"The planned NATO exercises in Georgia, no matter how our Western partners try to convince us otherwise, are an overt provocation. One cannot carry out exercises in a place where there was just a war," Medvedev said at the signing.

Each side accused the other of violating the terms of the EU-brokered ceasefire that ended the five-day Russia-Georgia conflict last August.

"Any actions which would be seen and perceived by Tbilisi as encouragement for the course of remilitarisation... are seen by us as contradicting the six principles for resolving the conflict agreed last August," Medvedev said.

NATO countered that Russia's agreements with the two rebel regions were a "clear contravention" of the ceasefire accord and vowed to press on with the exercises, which will run from Wednesday to June 1 and involve over 400 soldiers.

"This is a clear contravention of the 12th of August and 8th of September agreements negotiated by the EU," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said in Brussels.

The Czech EU statement stressed "the EU's full support to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia in its internationally recognised borders."

Security matters should be discussed in "relevant international fora," it added, citing in particular foreign-backed peace talks due to resume in Geneva on May 18-19.

"This action contravenes Russia's commitments under the August 12 ceasefire," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement, adding the move "violates Georgia's territorial integrity."

Wood urged Russia to "honor its commitments" under last year's ceasefire deal and said "establishing a 'border' under the control of Russian soldiers marks another step in the opposite direction."

Georgia, for its part, shrugged off the border pacts, saying they simply formalised a state of affairs in place since the end of last summer's war.

"This is yet another step by the Russian authorities towards completing the occupation of these two Georgian regions," the secretary of Georgia's National Security Council, Eka Tkeshelashvili, told AFP.

But diplomatic ties were further strained when a NATO diplomat confirmed that the alliance had ordered the expulsion of two Russian diplomats from Brussels, where NATO has its headquarters.

The diplomats, including the son of Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, were evicted on suspicion of spying, after NATO unearthed a spy in Estonia's defence ministry thought to be passing secrets to Moscow.

The expulsions by NATO will not go unanswered, Russia's ambassador to the alliance, Dmitry Rogozin, warned Thursday.

"We are not going to lose our temper, those who did that want to undermine the wish of the presidents of our two countries (US and Russia) to have good relations," Rogozin said.

News of the expulsion and the fresh sparring over Georgia came just one day after Russia and NATO resumed formal dialogue with ambassador-level talks of the NATO-Russia Council.

The talks were the first official high-level contact between Russia and NATO since the alliance froze ties with Moscow in protest at the Georgia war last August.

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