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Moscow, Tbilisi, spar over NATO accession

By Alexander Ward
Thursday, April 10
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

Yesterday Foreign Minister Davit Bakradze criticized as “extremely alarming” the recent remarks of his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, who said Moscow would do its utmost to prevent Georgia from joining NATO.

“We will do our best to prevent the accession of Georgia and Ukraine to NATO, [so as] not to allow the worsening of our relations with the alliance, or with its leading members as well as with our neighbors,” Lavrov said in an interview broadcast on radio station Ekho Moskvy on April 8.

He said Moscow considers “the attempts of the NATO military machine to [expand near] our borders, as nothing other than a threat to our security.”

Bakradze said that while Lavrov’s comments had no practical meaning, given assurances from NATO at last week’s Bucharest summit that Georgia and Ukraine will some day join the alliance, he expressed concern at the Russian foreign minister’s “attitude and terminology.”

“I would advise my Russian colleagues to read the final communique of the Bucharest summit with more attention. The issue that Georgia and Ukraine will become NATO members has already been decided,” he said.

In the run-up to the NATO Bucharest summit, Tbilisi warned that if Georgia did not receive a Membership Action Plan, the next stage of integration into the alliance, Russia would be emboldened to interfere in Georgia’s separatist regions. Georgia was denied a Membership Action Plan at the summit, but took home a statement pledging eventual accession.

On April 8, Justice Minister Nika Gvaramia accused Moscow of trying to establish “connections with Abkhazia as if with a sovereign state.”

Gvaramia said he received a letter from the Russian Justice Ministry informing Tbilisi of its intention to talk with separatist officials about the extradition of 35 Russian citizens now detained in Abkhazia.

The Justice Minister took issue with the letter’s reference to the terms “Abkhaz authorities” and “Russian-Abkhaz relations,” which he deemed “extremely improper both politically and legally,” according to online news source

In March, Russia backed out of a Commonwealth of Independent States treaty which imposed sanctions on Abkhazia, stating that the “situation has dramatically changed” after Kosovo, with Western backing, declared independence from Serbia the previous month.

On April 3, a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry said President Vladimir Putin is “by no means indifferent” to the situation in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and will “continue…substantive rather than declarative” support for the breakaway regions.

Lavrov has previously said that Georgia should not seek to join NATO as its separatist regions oppose integration into the alliance, and suggested Russian support for the two regions would increase as Georgia advanced toward NATO membership.