BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO allies said on Tuesday that regular contacts with Russia were impossible until its troops had been fully withdrawn from Georgia, and said they were “seriously considering” the implications of Moscow’s actions.
“We have determined that we cannot continue with business as usual,” the 26 NATO states said in a joint declaration after emergency talks in Brussels over the South Ossetia conflict.
Separately, they agreed to set up a new forum known as a NATO-Georgia Commission to deepen ties with Tbilisi.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference it would function along similar lines to an 11-year-old arrangement with Ukraine but would not prejudge Georgia’s prospects of entering the alliance.
De Hoop Scheffer said Russian forces needed to return to their positions as of August 6, and until Russian troops withdrew from Georgia he could not see the possibility of a meeting between NATO states and Russia.
“We certainly have not the intention to close all doors,” he said, but added in reference to the promised Russian troop withdrawal: “It’s not happening at the moment.”
“Russian troops will have to withdraw now to their pre-crisis positions.”
Months of tension between Georgia and Russia erupted on August 7, when Tbilisi sought to regain control of its breakaway South Ossetia region. Russia, which backs the separatists, launched a massive counter-offensive that extended well into Georgia.
Washington had called on NATO nations to consider at least suspending ministerial meetings with Russia, but Britain and others said it would be counter-productive to cut channels of communication with Moscow now.
Russia has been incensed by NATO’s promise of membership to Georgia. This would take NATO right up to Russia’s southern border and many analysts believe that and a similar promise of membership for Ukraine was behind this month’s fighting.
Backers of Tbilisi have said the conflict strengthened the argument for bringing Georgia into NATO as soon as possible, but U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters late on Monday there was no plan to accelerate NATO discussions on the matter that are set for December.