World

Georgia war games feed tensions between Russia, NATO

Russia and NATO sought to limit damage to their relationship Wednesday, amid a flurry of diplomatic expulsions and pointed Russian criticism of military exercises in the Republic of Georgia.

Russia and NATO sought to limit damage to their relationship Wednesday, amid a flurry of diplomatic expulsions and pointed Russian criticism of military exercises in the Republic of Georgia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, left, surrounded by his guards, enters the military base where a brief mutiny broke out, in Mukhrovani, about 30 kilometres from Tbilisi. ((Irakli Gedenidze/Presidential Press Service/Pool/Associated Press))

Starting Wednesday, some 15 countries are taking part in a series of military exercises in the former Soviet satellite state. Participants are holding meetings until at least May 11, after which battlefield manoeuvres will begin, Georgian Defence Ministry spokesman David Dzhokhadze said.

NATO has encouraged Russia to join the war games and says they pose no threat, but Russia has dismissed the idea of taking part, saying it is inappropriate to hold the month-long military exercises in a country that recently fought and lost a war.

The war games amount to Western meddling in its sphere of influence, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in televised comments Tuesday.

He took pains to emphasize that Moscow wanted normal relations with the Western alliance, despite objections over NATO expansion into former Soviet republics.

"We want a normal partnership with the North Atlantic alliance, based on mutual respect and mutual benefit," Lavrov said.

Cold War tensions emerge

Russia's relations with NATO have been fraught with tension for years over the alliance's eastward expansion, and tiny Georgia and its aim of joining NATO have become a major irritation.

On April 29, NATO and Russia resumed formal contacts suspended over Russia's five-day war with Georgia in August. Russia and NATO — which have co-operated in recent months on matters including shipments to Afghanistan — planned a meeting of foreign ministers later this month, but that meeting is now up in the air.

Exacerbating tensions, hundreds of Georgian troops staged a mutiny Tuesday at a tank battalion headquarters near Tbilisi. The rebellion ended with the soldiers surrendering without incident.

Russia angrily denied Georgia's initial claims that Moscow orchestrated the mutiny in hopes of overthrowing the government.

Georgia quickly backtracked and said the mutiny was aimed at disrupting the NATO exercises. Some Georgian opposition members called the mutiny a charade cooked up by Georgian leader Mikhail Saakashvili to rally support after weeks of opposition protests.

"We are an established state and showed it yesterday, and we won't let anyone act this way," Saakashvili said Wednesday in an address to military officers.

with files from The Associated Press

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