'NATO does not enhance security in Europe'

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Moscow, Mar 29: Ahead of NATO summit next week in Romania, Russia has warned that NATO's expansion does not enhance security in Europe and will only serve to divide the continent.

''In the modern world, real threats should be dealt with not by mechanical enlargement but by uniting forces,'' Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists after meeting his counterparts from the post-Soviet Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). ''NATO's expansion in its current form reflects the logic of preserving and strengthening dividing lines in Europe,'' MrLavrov said. NATO members intend to discuss Georgia and Ukraine's bids for membership in the alliance at its summit in Bucharest (Romania) on April 2-4. Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin is also set to attend the summit.

Mr Lavrov also warned Georgia against using NATO membership as a tool to regain control over its rebel regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away in the 1990s and enjoy Russian support.

''Concerning South Ossetia and Abkhazia, if Georgia intends to gain NATO support in order to solve these two conflicts by means of force, it is a dangerous game,'' he said.

''The population of South Ossetia and Abkhazia cannot think of joining NATO,'' he said, noting ''In such a complicated issue it is a dangerous game to play with fire.'' After the NATO summit in Bucharest, Mr Putin will meet US President George Bush for more discussions on NATO's expansion and US plans to deploy elements of its missile shield in Poland and he Czech Republic.

NATO expansion and the US missile shield plans have triggered confrontational rhetoric from Russia and prompted the country to temporarily withdraw from the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, a crucial arms control arrangement, in December 2007.

Putin has warned Russia may have to retarget some of its rockets at both the planned US missile defences in Central Europe and Ukraine, in the event of Kiev joining NATO.


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