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Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Friday, 17 April 2009 13:42 UK

Nato exercises 'a dangerous move'

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
President Medvedev said Nato was merely 'muscle-flexing'

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has condemned Nato's "dangerous decision" to hold military exercises in Georgia next month.

He said such decisions "are aimed at muscle-flexing" and would impede the resumption of full-scale contacts between Moscow and Nato.

Moscow's envoy to Nato said on Thursday he had asked the Western military alliance to postpone the exercises.

Nato says the exercises, from 6 May to 1 June, represent no threat to Moscow.

Held some 20km (12 miles) east of Georgia's capital Tbilisi, they will be non-aggressive and based on a fictitious UN-mandated, Nato-led crisis response operation, the alliance said.

"There should really be no element of surprise for anyone," Nato spokesman Robert Pszczel said. "There is no heavy armour involved at all, it's just people."

Nato has said the exercises, expected to involve 1,300 troops from 19 countries, were planned before last year's conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia.

Georgia hopes eventually to join Nato, a move strongly opposed by Russia, which says the alliance's eastward expansion is a threat to its security.

'Impossible'

"I think this is the wrong decision, a dangerous decision," Mr Medvedev said on Friday.

Georgian soldiers sit atop a tank during the Georgian-Russian war
Georgian troops were ousted from South Ossetia in August

"Such decisions are disappointing and do not facilitate the resumption of full-scale contacts between the Russian Federation and Nato."

His comments came a day after Moscow's ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, described the exercises as "absurd and a provocation".

"I have asked the Nato Secretary General [Jaap de Hoop Scheffer]... to postpone these exercises or to cancel them," he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Rogozin said military co-operation between Russia and Nato was still frozen as a result of last summer's South Ossetia conflict and that Moscow's position would not change before a forthcoming ministerial meeting in May.

He also rejected Nato's argument that the exercises had been planned last year.

"A war is a 'force majeure'," he said. "To hold military exercises in a country where a war has just ended is impossible."

The ambassador also said the exercises could be exploited by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in his stand-off with opposition parties, which have recently held a series of mass protests.

The opposition accuses him of mishandling the war with Russia, during which Georgia's attempts to regain control of the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia were repelled by Russian forces.

Under an EU-sponsored ceasefire, monitors were sent to Georgia. But thousands of Russian troops remain in both breakaway regions.



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