Monday, April 13, 2009

Lavrov says Georgia conflict proves dangers of NATO expansion

The August conflict with Georgia demonstrated just how dangerous NATO's eastward expansion could be, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a session of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council on Saturday.

"The Caucasus crisis showed how dangerous the automatic eastward expansion of NATO is. It is enough just to imagine what would have happened if Georgia had been a NATO member, as Russia would have still had no other option but to act as it did last August," he said. Last December European NATO members led by Germany blocked bids by Georgia and Ukraine, who are actively seeking membership in the military alliance.

The refusal followed Russia's five-day war with Tbilisi in August, launched after Georgian troops mounted an offensive on its former republic, South Ossetia. The conflict led to a suspension in the Russia-NATO Council in September 2008, although the two sides agreed earlier this month to resume work.

Lavrov said the Russia-NATO Council could be a basis for cooperation within the Euro-Atlantic space, but ruled out Russia joining the alliance. "The Russia-NATO Council could, if all participants, including the EU, have the political will, become a constructive basis for the Euro-Atlantic space," he said, adding "I don't think Russia could join NATO as it currently stands."

The minister also described Russia-American relations, which have shown signs of a thaw since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January, as "cautiously optimistic."

"Irrespective of what decisions the Obama administration makes in the coming months... the positive change in our relations with the U.S. will work to the general global benefit of regional politics, particularly in the Euro-Atlantic," the foreign minister said.

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