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NATO leaders to examine military stance on Georgia conflict

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Latest update : 2008-09-18

NATO defence ministers are set to meet in London for talks centered on Georgia's conflict with Russia. They should discuss the effect the conflict will have on the transatlantic alliance's future, including on Georgia's hopes to join NATO.

NATO defence ministers are set to meet Thursday in London for talks overshadowed by Georgia's conflict with Russia and the effects it will have on the military alliance's future.
   
"The discussion will revolve around the implications for NATO of the current security situation," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said Wednesday. "To see how NATO's on-going transformation will have to take (this) into account."
   
The ministers, who were also to discuss Friday how the military alliance should change to meet modern security challenges, will hold a closed-doors working dinner with Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze.
   
The talks are likely to further anger Moscow, which described a NATO-Georgia commission meeting this week as "anti-Russia" and something that "confirmed that the reflexes of the Cold War ... were still at work in NATO."
   
A number of NATO members -- chiefly the Baltic states and Poland -- are keen to ensure that the alliance has the heavy weaponry it needs to confront land forces, especially after Russian tanks rolled into Georgia on August 8.
   
But NATO's recent military transformation has tended to focus on light, expeditionary forces that can be rapidly deployed to any hotspots that might flare up around the world.
   
Appathurai acknowledged that some of the 26 NATO allies were debating "whether that needs a rebalancing, I think that is the kind of discussion that is being had in some capitals."
   
Russia's NATO envoy said the ministers "will discuss restoring the military potential of Georgia", and insisted that the United States had already been helping Tbilisi repair its air defences.
   
But the envoy, Ambassador Dmitry Rogozin, insisted the alliance faces a tough task, describing Georgia's military variously as "hostile but lacking in military motivation" and "deserters".
   
"The spirit of the army is at zero level now," he said.
   
Georgia's efforts to join the world's biggest military alliance have deeply angered Moscow, which objects to its old Cold War foe moving hardware into its backyard.
   
But its decision to recognise the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, over which Russia sent forces into Georgia last month, saw NATO refuse to do "business as usual" and their relations have nose-dived ever since.
   
In Tbilisi on Tuesday, NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer affirmed that Georgia's path to NATO membership was wide open and he warned Russia against interfering, as he assessed the damage from the war.
   
"While the events of last month may have been a setback, the road to NATO is still wide open to Georgia," he said, before touring the frontline city of Gori, near where Russian troops are dug in around a buffer zone.
   
"No other country will have a veto over that," he said in a clear reference to Russia. "Nor will we allow our strong ties with Georgia to be broken by outside military intervention or pressure."
   
He also urged Moscow to reverse its recognition of the two regions "because it is a wrong decision."
   
Rogozin, however, suggested that this would be out of the question.
   
"We are not a puppet who takes a decision one moment, only to withdraw it later," he said.
   
On Friday, the talks in London will be "dedicated to the nuts and bolts of transformation", Appathurai said, with debate on how high defence spending should be, where to find sorely-needed helicopters, and how to use NATO's flagship rapid response force.

Date created : 2008-09-18

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