Nato chief's Caucasus tour angers Russia

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The Independent Online
JAVIER SOLANA, Secretary-General of Nato and a critic of the West's handling of Russia, was on a mission yesterday that risked deepening anti-Western sentiment in the unstable and bankrupt former super-power.

Mr Solana arrived in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, for a three-nation tour of ex-Soviet republics in the Caucasus, including Armenia and Azerbaijan - a strategically vital region over which Moscow has been striving to maintain influence.

None of his critics - beyond the more extreme elements in Moscow - disputes Nato's right to visit independent nations, but questions have been raised about the timing, which comes amid uncertainty over the future course of Russia. "It is very unfortunate," one Western diplomat said.

Billed by Nato as an effort to build further co-operation with the Caucasus republics, the Solana trip coincides with a debate in the West over who is responsible for what some analysts characterise as the "loss" of Russia.

Mr Solana has chipped in, lambasting Western powers for lacking leadership or strategy. Yet Nato, whose expansion into Eastern Europe has long been a bone of contention with Russia, has ensured it gets a share of the blame by parading its colours on Russia's southern flank in a particularly uncertain period. In the past month, the flagship of the US Sixth Fleet, USS LaSalle, has been steaming around the Black Sea.

More than two weeks after his appointment, Yevgeny Primakov, the Prime Minister, has yet to complete his government. Doubts abound over how long it will last. And no one can be certain whether Moscow will espouse the mantra of market capitalism or whether anti-Western forces will prevail.