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Russia threatens to pull out of NATO meeting

Russia has threatened to cancel a May 7 meeting with senior NATO officials if the western military alliance goes ahead with planned exercises in Georgia.

NATO's logo superimposed over a Russian flag

NATO and Russia have been looking to mend ties, but the issue of Georgia still rankles

Russia, which has been at loggerheads with Georgia since a fighting a brief war in August, has repeatedly criticized any cooperation between NATO and the pro-Western Georgian government in Tbilisi.

"From Russia's point of view, and from Georgia's point of view, and from the viewpoint of world affairs, such war games carry a clearly provocative character," Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said.

However, Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze, speaking at a press conference in Stockholm on Monday underlined his country's right as a sovereign state to host the exercises.

In Brussels, NATO said that it had not been informed about Russia's plan to cancel the meeting of top military brass and that it would push on with the exercises in Georgia.

"Russia has been fully informed as a NATO partner of the preparations for this exercise for a year and should recognize that it poses no threat to the stability in the region," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has warned NATO already that the exercises could hinder efforts to unfreeze the alliance's relations with Moscow, suspended after the Georgia war.

The NATO-Russia Council's first formal ambassadorial meeting since the resumption of ties is scheduled for April 29 and a ministerial meeting is planned for May 19. Russian officials have so far sent no signal these two meetings could be at risk.

NATO diplomats said this indicated that the process of gradual normalization of relations remained on track and that, if anything, Rogozin's comments could indicate a softening of the Russian line as he had only threatened to cancel the May 7 meeting.

The exercises, which have been planned since the spring of 2008, were originally expected to involve 1,300 personnel from 19 NATO and partner countries.

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