Russian, NATO defense chiefs to discuss missile shield, Abkhazia

By RIA Novosti,

Moscow : Russia’s defense minister will meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels on Friday for talks expected to focus on Russia’s role in the Georgian rebel region of Abkhazia and U.S. missile shield plans.

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The Russia-NATO Council session, taking place during two days of NATO meetings, will also address Russia’s participation in Operation Active Endeavour, an ongoing security and counter-terrorist naval operation in the Mediterranean Sea.

Col. Alexei Kuznetsov, a spokesman for Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, said Russia’s opposition to U.S. plans to place 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and a radar station in the neighboring Czech Republic would be high on the agenda.

“A strong focus will be put on unresolved issues, in particular the placement of strategic U.S. missile defense elements on the European continent, arms control in Europe, and the expansion of NATO,” he said.

NATO members’ reluctance to approve an amended Cold War-era Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty was discussed last week during President Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Russia imposed a moratorium on the treaty late last year.

During the Russia-NATO meeting, Western defense chiefs will urge Russia to take measures to calm tensions in Georgia’s breakaway province of Abkhazia.

Georgia has accused Russia of trying to annex the region, and has condemned Russia’s recent move to deploy additional peacekeepers there, as well as the arrival of around 300 railroad troops late last month.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have deteriorated in recent years over Moscow’s support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another separatist region in Georgia, and Tbilisi’s drive for NATO membership.

The defense minister’s spokesman said that during his Brussels visit, Serdyukov will hold a one-on-one meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.