Brussels: NATO invited Russia Wednesday to send observers to alliance war games in Georgia next month in an effort to assuage Moscow’s concerns about the manoeuvres.”If Russia chooses to send observers, that is something that I think the alliance would look on quite positively, as a way of diminishing possible misunderstandings or concerns,” NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.
“Russia should see, and if it sends observers will see, that in terms of numbers of soldiers on the ground, in terms of what they’re doing… this is doing nothing but contributing to international security,” he said.
Russia has described the military manoeuvres in NATO-hopeful Georgia, set to run from May 6 to June 1, as “provocative”, but Appathurai said the anti-terrorism exercises involved only a few hundred troops.
“We’re talking about 400-450 troops training to defend against a terrorist attack. This I think should be clearly no threat to anybody,” he told reporters in Brussels.
On Tuesday, Russia informed NATO that it was pulling out of a high-level military meeting on May 7, but did not link the move to its concerns about the exercises, an alliance spokeswoman said.
NATO froze top level talks with Russia after it sent troops into Georgia last August and subsequently recognised the independence of the breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Meetings of the NATO-Russia Council — the forum where the world’s biggest military alliance and Moscow work together on security challenges and air their many differences — have only recently resumed at an informal level.
In Helsinki, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze said that Tbilisi had a right to conduct military exercises with NATO as it sees fit.
“Those exercises pose no threat to anybody and it’s again a sovereign right of other countries to participate or not to participate,” he told reporters.
Vashadze said Moscow had stationed some 15,700 troops close to Georgia’s borders and that his country had “more ground to be hysterical than the Russians.”
Russia and Georgia have been at loggerheads since fighting their brief war.
Moscow has been extremely wary of any cooperation between NATO and the pro-Western government in Tbilisi, where leaders have long strived for membership of the European Union and the military alliance.
The exercises have been planned since the spring of 2008 and are set to involve about 1,300 people from 19 NATO and partner countries at a training centre 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of the Georgian capital.
Apart from anti-terror training, they will include “table top” exercises aimed at better coordinating forces from a headquarters.