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Russia warns Georgian NATO entry would spark new confrontations

RIA Novosti

06/06/2008 17:38 ST. PETERSBURG, June 6 (RIA Novosti) - Georgia's accession to NATO would cause a new spiral of confrontation in the Caucasus region, Russia's foreign minister said on Friday.

"If Georgia believes its entry to NATO will help resolve conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, it is mistaken - this will trigger new bloodshed," Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting between the Russian and Georgian presidents.

Tbilisi was promised eventual membership in NATO at the alliance's summit in April, but no accession timeframe was set. Russia has treated the Western bloc's eastward expansion as a security threat.

Relations between the two former Soviet republics have been strained since the Western-leaning government came to power in Georgia in 2004. Points of contention also included Moscow's support for Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russia says it has been trying to deter new armed conflicts similar to those after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Lavrov said President Dmitry Medvedev expressed a desire to have conflicts with the breakaway regions resolved as soon as possible.

He said Medvedev had urged his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili to sign an agreement not to use force against Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"Georgia should engage in mutually respectful dialogue with Sukhumi and Tskhinvali [the Abkhazian and South Ossetian capitals] based on the principles agreed on as guidelines for settling these conflicts," Lavrov said.

The Russian minister also said Russia was ready to cooperate with Georgia over the reconstruction of Abkhazian railways.

Russia deployed some 300 unarmed railroad troops in the area in late May. Georgia accused Moscow of preparing for military action.

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