NATO cautions Russia over Georgia troop boost

Russia is under NATO's watchful eye after it beefed up its presence in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. NATO appealed for all parties to act to diffuse escalating tensions. (Report: N Rushworth)



BRUSSELS, April 30 (Reuters) - NATO said on Wednesday it was watching Russia’s troop buildup in Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region with concern and that the move by Moscow was raising tensions in the region.


NATO spokesman James Appathurai, speaking to reporters as alliance ambassadors met their Russian counterpart, said that Russia might be technically entitled to raise its troop levels.


But he added: “In the political realtity, this is not easing tensions it is raising tensions.


“NATO is watching with concern. It wants to see all parties avoid the kind of rhetoric that we have seen that is escalating tension and not take steps ... to undermine what is already a fragile situation.”


Russia announced on Tuesday it was sending extra peacekeeping troops to the Black Sea region to counter what it said were Georgian plans for an attack. The European Union accused Moscow of stoking tensions.


The NATO spokesman added that, under the mandate for peacekeeping operations in Abkhazia, plans for deployments needed to be approved by the conflicting sides.


Georgia had made clear it would not approve of further Russian deployments, he said.


The crisis between the small Transcaucasian country, a vital energy transit route, and its former Soviet master has alarmed NATO allies who see Georgia as a possible future member of the U.S.-led alliance.


On Monday, NATO ambassadors met Georgian presidential envoy David Bakradze in Brussels. They reiterated support for Georgia and criticised Russia for issuing warnings about the possible use of force.


In a further show of support, the 26-nation alliance also announced plans for the envoys to visit Georgia before the end of the year.


After meeting EU ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated that Moscow would use military force if Georgia attacked Abkhazia or a second Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia.


European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the talks that the Russian deployment of extra peacekeepers in Abkhazia was unwise at a time of rising tensions. He reaffirmed EU support for Georgia’s territorial integrity.


On Wednesday, Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of EU president Slovenia, said the European Union wanted to see the situation resolved in a “tolerant and diplomatic manner”.


“After yesterday’s talks I believe that this will happen,” he told a news conference in Ljubljana.

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