OSLO, Norway (AP) — Russia has informed Norway that it plans to suspend all military ties with NATO, Norway’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday, a day after the military alliance urged Moscow to withdraw its forces from Georgia.
NATO foreign ministers said Tuesday they would make further ties with Russia dependent on Moscow’s making good on a pledge to pull its troops back to preconflict positions in Georgia. However, they stopped short of calling an immediate halt to all cooperation.
The Nordic country’s embassy in Moscow received a telephone call from “a well-placed official in the Russian Ministry of Defense” who said Moscow plans “to freeze all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries,” Espen Barth Eide, state secretary with the Norwegian ministry said.
Mr. Eide told the Associated Press that the Russian official notified Norway it will receive a written note about this soon. He said Norwegian diplomats in Moscow would meet Russian officials on Thursday morning to clarify the implications of the freeze.
“It is our understanding that other NATO countries will receive similar notes,” Mr. Eide said. The ministry said the Russian official is known to the embassy, but Norway declined to provide a name or any further identifying information.
A Kremlin official declined to comment on the report, and the Russian ambassador to NATO did not reply to messages left on his cell phone. But the Interfax news agency, citing what it called a military-diplomatic source in Moscow whom it did not identify, reported that Russia is reviewing its 2008 military cooperation plans with NATO.
Officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels said Moscow had not informed the alliance it was taking such a step.
Washington described the reported move as unfortunate.
“If this indeed is the case, it would be unfortunate. We need to work with Russia on a range of security issues, but we are obviously very concerned about Russian behavior in Georgia,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
Under a 2002 agreement that set up the NATO-Russia Council, the former Cold War foes began several cooperation projects. They include occasional participation of Russian warships in NATO counterterrorism patrols in the Mediterranean Sea, sharing expertise to combat heroin trafficking out of Afghanistan and developing battlefield anti-missile technology.
Last week, Russia’s ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, warned the Western alliance against cutting off cooperation, saying it would hurt both sides.
The Interfax news agency, citing a military-diplomatic source in Moscow, reported Wednesday that Russia is reviewing its 2008 military cooperation plans as a result of NATO’s decision to suspend meetings of the NATO-Russia Council.
Mr. Eide said he hoped NATO and Moscow would get back on track with dialogue and cooperation but said that Russia first would have to comply with a cease-fire in Georgia.
“I regret the situation has come to this,” he said.
The hostilities between Russia and Georgia began earlier this month when Georgia cracked down on South Ossetia. The region is recognized internationally as being within Georgian borders but leans toward Moscow and regards itself as independent. Russia answered by sending its troops and tanks across the Georgian border.