OSLO (Reuters) - Doubts surfaced over the future of military cooperation between NATO and Russia on Wednesday after Norway said Moscow had informed it of a decision to freeze all joint work with the alliance in the row over Georgia.
However Russia’s ambassador to NATO played down any future steps, saying the decisions were “of temporary character, of regional character, not global character”. A NATO spokeswoman said it had no notification of a Russian move.
“Norway has noted that Russia has decided for the time being to ‘freeze’ all military cooperation with NATO and allied countries,” Norway’s Defence Ministry said on its website.
A defence ministry spokeswoman told Reuters that Moscow had sent “a message” to Oslo — with which it has had warm relations — about the freeze but declined to provide further details.
On Tuesday NATO countries agreed after U.S. pressure on to freeze regular contacts with Russia until Moscow had withdrawn its troops from Georgia in line with a peace deal.
NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the alliance had heard nothing from Moscow on military cooperation. “NATO has not received any notification from the Russians saying they are going to cut military cooperation activities,” she said.
Russian envoy Dmitry Rogozin said curtailing contacts was “in nobody’s interest”. “Temporary decisions are being taken on current cooperation and not about cooperation in general,” he told Reuters in English.
Asked which areas these involved, he said: “Military naval exercises in the Far East, the Mediterranean, in the Baltic.”
However he said no decision had been taken to end cooperation with the alliance’s big operation against Islamist militancy in Afghanistan, under which Moscow allows the transit of non-lethal equipment for NATO via its territory.
“This is not going to happen. If Afghanistan is the new Vietnam for the Americans then it will be a problem for Russia itself ... We are not interested in the alliance’s failure in Afghanistan.”
Months of tension between Georgia and Russia erupted on August 7, when Tbilisi sought to regain control of the breakaway South Ossetia region. Russia launched a massive counter-offensive that extended into the Georgian heartland.
Russia has been incensed by NATO’s promise of membership to Georgia. This would take NATO right up to Russia’s southern border and many analysts believe a similar promise of membership for Ukraine was behind this month’s fighting.
Washington responded to Russian intervention in Georgia by excluding Moscow from discussions among the Group of Eight nations and making clear that Russia’s membership of bodies like the World Trade Organization could be in jeopardy.
NATO has also barred a Russian ship from joining an anti-terrorism exercise and did not agree to a Russian request for an emergency meeting on the crisis in the Caucasus.
Norwegian Deputy Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide told the online version of newspaper Aftenposten that Oslo’s relations with Russia had “cooled off”.
“We wish to continue the cooperation with Russia as far as possible but now the conflict with Russia has escalated further. It’s a quite demanding security policy landscape that’s developing,” Eide was quoted as saying.
Norway and Russia share a border in the Arctic and have good working relations in areas ranging from fishing rights to the exploitation of natural resources. A large swathe of the Barents Sea has overlapping claims by both Oslo and Moscow, however..
Reporting by Wojciech Moskwa and Richard Solem in Oslo, Amie Ferris-Rotman in Moscow and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Editing by Giles Elgood