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    Russia's Lavrov criticizes NATO over plans for drills in Georgia

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    Russia's foreign minister criticized on Thursday NATO's plans to conduct exercises in Georgia, saying they could give the Georgian regime a sense of impunity, and raise tensions in the Caucasus region.

    YEREVAN, April 16 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister criticized on Thursday NATO's plans to conduct exercises in Georgia, saying they could give the Georgian regime a sense of impunity, and raise tensions in the Caucasus region.

    The Cooperative Longbow 09/Cooperative Lancer 09 exercises led by the Western military alliance will be held from May 6 through June 1, and will not feature weapons.

    Sergei Lavrov said: "I hope that NATO countries, in planning future interaction with Georgia within the Partnership for Peace program, will avoid steps that could nudge the Georgian regime into a feeling of permissiveness and impunity."

    "With regard to Georgia's regime, a demonstration of NATO's participation [in the exercises] will not send the right signal by those who honestly want to achieve stability in the Caucasus," he said.

    The diplomat said that countries should understand that in view of the August 2008 conflict, which begun with Georgia's attack on South Ossetia, supplying arms to Georgia poses a severe danger.

    He said that NATO countries have ignored Russia's warnings in recent years, in continually supplying offensive weapons to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's regime.

    NATO Press Secretary Robert Pszczel told RIA Novosti that during the exercises, "No one will be using weapons or tanks."

    The drills are aimed at improving interoperability between NATO and partner countries, within the framework of Partnership for Peace, Mediterranean Dialogue and Istanbul Cooperation Initiative programs.

    The exercises are "not purely NATO," but are partner exercises within the framework of the Partnership for Peace program, Pszczel said. "They are open to all of NATO's partner countries, including Russia."

    Russia's NATO envoy, Dmitry Rogozin, earlier said the country had asked NATO's leadership not to hold the exercises.

    "We sent an official note to NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer proposing that the NATO military exercises in Georgia, planned for the near future, be postponed or canceled," he said.

    A total of 19 countries will be participating in the military exercises: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Hungary, Greece, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Spain, Macedonia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, and the U.S.

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