European leaders unite with call to freeze ties with Russia

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The Independent Online

European leaders will attempt to bury their differences and send a tough message to Moscow at an emergency Nato meeting today, where there will be calls to freeze ties between the Western alliance and Russia in the aftermath of the war in Georgia.

The US and Britain want Nato foreign ministers in Brussels to insist that Georgia's territorial integrity is "inviolable", British diplomats said. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned last week that the world could "forget about" Georgia ever recovering its breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The diplomats said the meeting is expected to reaffirm Nato's invitation to both Georgia and Ukraine for eventual membership of the 26-member alliance. The Georgian government believes it was Nato's refusal to give both countries a firm timetable for Nato membership, while holding out the promise that the former Soviet republics would eventually become members, that emboldened Russia to strike back so powerfully in the six-day war.

Diplomats acknowledged there would be some hard bargaining at today's meeting, with some countries, including Britain, the US, Poland and the Baltic states, arguing that Moscow must "face consequences" for its "disproportionate force" against Georgia. Others, including France, Germany and Italy, argue that further criticism of the Kremlin could be counterproductive at a time when the withdrawal of Russian forces from Georgia is still awaited.

The ministers will look at a range of military, ministerial and other activities planned with Russia on a case by case basis. Britain and the US have already cancelled planned military manoeuvres with the Russians in Vladivostok in protest at Moscow's actions in Georgia.

Future meetings of the Russia-Nato council, a consultative body established in 2002 to improve relations among former Cold War foes, will also be on the agenda. "We don't want to destroy the Nato-Russia Council but Russia's actions have called into question the premise of the Nato-Russia relationship," said the US ambassador Kurt Volker.

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