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    Russia shuns Baltic drills, refuses to receive U.S. ship

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    Russia said on Tuesday it will not participate in the NATO-led Open Spirit 2008 naval exercise in the Baltic Sea, and will refuse to receive a U.S. warship in the Far East port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

    MOSCOW, August 19 (RIA Novosti) - Russia said on Tuesday it will not participate in the NATO-led Open Spirit 2008 naval exercise in the Baltic Sea, and will refuse to receive a U.S. warship in the Far East port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

    "In accordance with a decision taken by the Russian defense minister, the Navy command has sent a notification via diplomatic channels to Lithuania that Baltic Fleet mine sweepers will not take part in the Open Spirit 2008 international naval exercises in the Baltic Sea," Capt. 1st Rank Igor Dygalo said.

    The exercise has been held annually since 1997 within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace program, with the aim of sweeping Baltic States' coastal areas for old WWI and WWII explosives.

    Russia's Baltic Fleet ships have been participating in the Open Spirit international exercise since 2003.

    Dygalo said diplomats will also notify the U.S. of the "impossibility" of receiving a U.S. Navy frigate, which is due to pay a business visit to the Kamchatka Peninsula on September 5-9.

    Last week the U.S. and Britain officially pulled out of a Russia-NATO naval exercise, FRUKUS 2008, slated for August 15-23 in the Sea of Japan.

    A Pentagon official on Thursday said the United States would stay away from the drill because of the South Ossetia-Georgia conflict.

    Washington and London have condemned Russia's response to a Georgian offensive on Tskhinvali, the capital of breakaway South Ossetia. Russia sent troops and armored vehicles into the region last week to expel Georgian troops following the attack.

    Previously named RUKUS, the exercises were launched in 1988 as a vehicle for dialogue between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The exercise name was changed to FRUKUS in 2003, when France formally joined the group.

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