April 27, 2009 / 11:40 AM / 11 years ago

Russia criticizes NATO Georgia war games, urges boycott

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday criticized NATO exercises in Georgia next month as harmful and said other countries should join Russia in boycotting them.

NATO had invited Russia to send observers to the near month-long exercises that will involve 1,300 troops from NATO members and other countries.

“Of course, Russia will not be participating and advises other countries against doing so,” Lavrov told a news conference. “We believe that these exercises, in the current environment, are harmful.

Diplomatic links between Tbilisi and Moscow were cut after last August’s brief war over the breakaway region of Sout

Diplomatic links between Tbilisi and Moscow were cut after last August’s brief war over the breakaway region of Sout h Ossetia. Moscow also opposes Georgia’s efforts to win membership of the western military alliance.

NATO says the scenario for the exercises that run from May 6 to June 1, will be a crisis response operation and poses no security threat to Russia.

Russia has already protested against the exercises by calling off a planned meeting of senior military officials in Brussels early next month, although formal political talks at ambassadorial and ministerial level are still going ahead.

“Rather than hold exercises in Georgia, you need to make the current Georgian regime fulfill its obligations,” Lavrov said, referring to an August ceasefire agreement brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Central Asia’s Kazakhstan has ruled out participating in the exercises, saying its military forces will be too busy to join them.

The row has muddied separate efforts by Moscow and Washington to improve relations that soured in recent years, partially over NATO interest in admitting ex-Soviet states like Georgia and Ukraine as members.

Fixing ties with NATO is part of a broader Moscow effort to improve relations with the United States, which have reached their post-Cold War lows under the previous U.S. administration of George W. Bush.

Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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