Schroder: Georgia in NATO May Spark War With Russia

BERLIN -- Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder warned NATO on Thursday that allowing aspiring member Georgia, with its "unpredictable" leader, to join the defense alliance could lead to an armed conflict with Russia.

SchrЪder, a close personal friend of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said he had been shocked at the one-sided approach Western nations had taken in their dealings with Russia over its conflict with Georgia.

"Whoever brings Georgia into NATO must know that in light of -- I will put this politely -- the unpredictable nature of the current leadership and an encirclement policy [toward Russia], which is supported by the United States -- NATO could end up getting entangled in a conflict," SchrЪder said.

"What that would mean -- both historically and for the development of future relations -- for German soldiers to participate in such a conflict must be stated openly," the Social Democrat said in a speech at an energy conference.

His stance is at odds with that of conservative German Chancellor Angela Merkel who, with other European Union members, has condemned Russia's military response against Georgia in South Ossetia as disproportionate.

SchrЪder also said that ensuring energy supplies to Europe was important but that a multilateral approach, including Russia, was needed.

"Plans ... to make energy policy a task for NATO are absurd and would lead us into an extraordinarily difficult security and foreign policy situation," he said.

Germany relies on Russia for about 44 percent of its gas imports, and SchrЪder said it was important that energy routes were renewed.

SchrЪder has previously urged the EU to pursue a "strategic partnership" deal with Moscow, arguing that Europe risks losing influence if it does not work with Russia.