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Russia to run delayed military drill with US in 07

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Oct 24 (Reuters) A joint Russian-US military exercise that was postponed amid opposition from nationalist parties will go ahead in 2007, Russian Defence Ministry officials said today.

More than 200 US servicemen, including 60 carrying firearms, had been due to take part in the Torgau-2006 joint training in central Russia in late September.

Russia postponed it indefinitely on September 5, saying there was no law allowing the presence of US military on its soil.

Nationalists threatened protests if the exercise went ahead, saying it was a sign of creeping US influence.

A defence ministry spokeswoman said today ''Torgau has been delayed until 2007.'' Another Defence Ministry official said a law to allow US soldiers into Russia would be adopted.

''The agreement will of course be ratified, there's no doubt about that,'' Deputy Head of International Military Cooperation at the Ministry of Defence, Yevgeny Buzhinsky, told a news briefing.

Parliament has so far not ratified last year's Partnership for Peace Status of Forces (SOFA) agreement signed with NATO to facilitate the movement of alliance forces in Russia and of Russian troops in NATO member states.

Russian and US soldiers took part in Torgau exercises in Russia and Germany in 2005.

Moscow's ties with NATO have been strained by the prospect of ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia joining the alliance.

Russian leaders acknowledge the right of the two countries, which have made a U-turn from their traditional dependence on Moscow, to join any international organisation.

But Russia sees NATO's overtures to Ukraine and Georgia as a potential threat to national security and a sign of the alliance poaching in what Moscow sees as its sphere of interests.

Russia-NATO military exercises have carried on as normal since the Torgau war games were postponed.

Nationalists described the Torgau exercises as an attempt ''to put a key Russian region on a NATO map''. They threatened to hold nationwide protests and block roads to the training site.

Reuters BDP GC1743

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