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    Medvedev says NATO exercises in Georgia 'open provocation' - 2

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    NATO's plans to hold military exercises in Georgia on May 6-June 1 are an "open provocation," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, warning of negative consequences.

    (Recasts, adds Georgian defense minister quotes in paras 4, 5, Lavrov comments in paras 10, 11)

    MOSCOW, April 30 (RIA Novosti) - NATO's plans to hold military exercises in Georgia on May 6-June 1 are an "open provocation," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Thursday, warning of negative consequences.

    "NATO's plans to hold exercises in Georgia...are an open provocation. Exercises must not be held there where a war has been fought," Medvedev said.

    He also warned that the exercises could have negative consequences for those who made the decision to hold them.

    Georgian Defense Minister David Sikharulidze said on Thursday the exercises would neither be canceled nor postponed.

    "The exercises will be launched next week, and they are the necessary ingredient for attaining Georgia's major goal of getting integrated into the North Atlantic alliance," he said.

    NATO says the Cooperative Longbow/Cooperative Lancer 2009 command-and-staff exercises will not feature light or heavy weaponry. In response to Russian criticism, the Western military alliance has said the drills were planned before the Russia-Georgia conflict, and that the exercise is open to all ally states, including Russia.

    Some 1,300 soldiers from 19 member-countries of the alliance and its partners are expected to participate, although Serbia said on Thursday it would not take part, following a similar announcement from Moldova on Wednesday. Kazakhstan's defense minister said last week his country had withdrawn from the exercises.

    Medvedev said the exercises were assisting Georgia's rearmament after last year's conflict with Russia over South Ossetia.

    "We view any actions that could be considered by Tbilisi as encouragement of a course towards the country's remilitarization and the senseless strengthening of military components as measures that run counter to the six principles of conflict settlement agreed last August," the president said.

    In an exclusive interview with the Russia Today international TV channel, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the alliance's decision to hold the exercises as "short-sighted."

    "Now, when the situation in the Caucasus is tense, the decision looks short-sighted and not partner-like. It will hardly help restore our full-fledged relations with the alliance," Lavrov said.

    He said earlier this week that it was "dangerous to appease the current Georgian regime, which has in no way abandoned attempts to solve its problems via militarization and the use of force."

    A source at the NATO headquarters in Brussels told RIA Novosti that Russia was overreacting. He said the drills are "not the end of the world" and that "no one is being forced" to participate.

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