NATO Urges Russia To Withdraw but Will Say Little Else

Russian forces showed signs of withdrawal in some areas of Georgia, but announced plans to strengthen their presence in others, two weeks after conflict began on Aug. 8.

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

BRUSSELS, Aug. 19 -- NATO allies said Tuesday that there will be no "business as usual" with Russia until its troops withdraw from all parts of Georgia, but Moscow's refusal to bend to the West's political will left the alliance with few options for punishment.

A declaration issued after an emergency meeting of NATO foreign ministers here called on Russia to "demonstrate -- both in word and deed" -- its commitment to a cooperative relationship with the alliance. It outlined a series of measures the alliance would take to help Georgia rebuild and ultimately bring it into the embrace of the West.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said NATO would coordinate assistance to what he said were more than 150,000 Georgians displaced by the fighting. The alliance, he said in a news conference, would dispatch experts to assess damage to Georgia's infrastructure and armed forces.

But with no sign that the Russians have begun a full-scale withdrawal from Georgian territory -- days after pledging to do so -- diplomats privately described the document as an indication of the limits of what NATO's diverse membership would agree to beyond denunciation.

The Russians themselves appeared to ridicule the declaration. While Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters the document was a "clear indication of NATO's interest and NATO's concern," Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's envoy to the alliance, assessed in his own news conference that "the mountain gave birth to a mouse."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also dismissed NATO's declaration, the Associated Press reported, saying the alliance was trying to make a victim of Georgia's "criminal regime." Georgia's desire for NATO membership is strongly opposed by Russia.

Though Rice said the United States got precisely what it wanted in the declaration, a German diplomat said that his government did not consider NATO the best place to discuss a global response to the Georgian crisis.

Some of NATO's newest members -- including those formerly part of the Soviet Union -- called for a more robust statement, the diplomat said. But "Georgia is not a member of NATO," the diplomat said. "What can NATO do?"

The cease-fire negotiated last week by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and signed over the weekend by Russian President Dmitry Medvedyev, called for Russian troops to return to their positions of Aug. 6, before they flooded from Russia through the separatist zone of South Ossetia and into undisputed Georgian cities and towns.

The demand in NATO's Tuesday declaration for a Russian withdrawal covers troops who crossed from Russia as part of the war. It does not cover several hundred Russian soldiers who were stationed on disputed Georgian land as peacekeepers prior to the escalation.

NATO hopes that U.N. action will result in an international peacekeeping force deploying to the two disputed areas of Georgia.

The declaration welcomed an agreement, reached between Georgia and Russia this Tuesday at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, to expand a small group of unarmed OSCE military monitors on the ground in Georgia from nine to 29. OSCE Chairman Alexander Stubb said that the monitors -- eventually to number 100 -- would initially be deployed only in areas in Georgia proper "adjacent" to South Ossetia and the other disputed enclave, Abkhazia.

Calling Georgia a "valued and long-standing Partner of NATO," the alliance's declaration said a NATO-Georgian commission would be formed to help Georgia move toward eventual membership. But it made no mention of fast-tracking action on Georgia's application.

Until the Georgia situation is resolved, Scheffer said he saw no indication that the NATO-Russian Council, established in 2002 to facilitate cooperation, would convene. In an indication of NATO's inability to agree on specific steps, he said that "no specific decisions on projects or programs have been taken."


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