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Russia Suspends Cooperation With NATO

Russia has stopped all military cooperation with NATO after alliance foreign ministers said future ties depend on Russia pulling back troops in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the Bush administration says Russia is violating an agreement to withdraw those troops.

Russia has notified NATO that it is halting international military cooperation with the alliance until further notice.

NATO last week suspended plans for a Russian ship to join counterterrorism patrols in the Mediterranean Sea following Russia's invasion of Georgian territory outside the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Given NATO's own action, White House Spokesman Gordon Johndroe says Russia's decision to end military cooperation with NATO does not mean much.

"For all practical purposes, military-to-military cooperation had really already been suspended with the Russians," he said. "NATO canceled some exercises, and I can't imagine a circumstance right now that we would engage in military cooperation with the Russians until the situation in Georgia is resolved."

Under a 2002 agreement with NATO, Russia agreed to cooperate on a number of projects including anti-missile technology, sea rescues, and combating heroin trafficking in Afghanistan.

Johndroe says the United States is hopeful for the day that military cooperation will resume, but he says right now Russia is making decisions that he says are not in line with becoming part of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russia intends to keep 500 troops at a series of checkpoints in a security zone surrounding South Ossetia.

Johndroe says Russia is violating its commitment to withdraw to previous positions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as part of a French-brokered cease-fire.

"The Russians need to honor their commitment," he said. "They made a commitment to withdraw. We expect them to withdraw."

Russia is promising to complete that withdrawal by Friday.

U.S. military spokesman Bryan Whitman says Russian movements are minimal and there is no evidence of a significant military withdrawal.

U.S. President George Bush says South Ossetia and Abkhazia are part of Georgia's international recognized borders and Russia must not lay claim to the territories.

Foreign Minister Lavrov last week said Georgia can forget about getting back the separatist regions as Russian President Dmitri Medvedev met with the self-declared leaders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The upper house of Russia's parliament is set to begin debate Monday on recognizing the independence of the two republics.