Moscow Presses NATO on War Blame

Moscow said it would insist on determining the cause of the August war in Georgia as NATO and Russia restarted diplomatic contacts that have been suspended since then.

Friday's statement came as diplomats at the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Russia is jeopardizing the future of the OSCE's mission to Georgia.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Dmitry Rogozin, Moscow's ambassador to the alliance, met over lunch in the first high-level meeting after a four-month hiatus caused by the war. The informal meeting aimed to explore how formal contacts could be restarted.

NATO spokeswoman Carmen Romero said the two sides would look to hold an informal meeting of the NATO-Russia Council at ambassadorial level next month. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian side wanted to discuss the root causes of the brief war in which Russian forces occupied large swaths of Georgia after Georgian troops shelled and invaded the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The United States and some Eastern European nations have blamed Russia for causing the bloodshed, but Moscow says its military actions were defensive and in response to Georgia's aggression.

"Now, when our NATO colleagues talk about restoring relations, we will insist that the restoration of ties starts with the discussion of the causes of the Caucasus crisis which our NATO partners dodged in August," Lavrov said.

Rogozin said that probes conducted since the conflict showed conclusively that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili was responsible for starting the war and that NATO would have to acknowledge that.

A Georgian parliamentary commission released a report late Thursday saying mismanagement and poor communications hampered Georgia in the conflict, but it supported Saakashvili's claims that Russian military movements forced him to launch an attack targeting South Ossetia.

Meanwhile, Russia has demanded that the OSCE divide its operations in Georgia to reflect the "independence" of separatist South Ossetia if it wants to extend its monitoring mission beyond Dec. 31, diplomats said Friday.

The United States and European allies in the 56-nation OSCE have not recognized South Ossetian independence. Moscow did so after the hostilities in August.

"Russia doesn't want the OSCE's Georgia mission to have any say or responsibility over activities in South Ossetia to underline that 'facts on the ground' have changed," said an OSCE diplomat who requested anonymity due to political sensitivities.

Russia has prevented OSCE observers from returning to South Ossetia, despite pledging under a ceasefire to let them back in. It says South Ossetian authorities should decide -- a firewall since most countries do not recognize them.

Russia and Georgia also blamed each other Friday for delaying repairs to a pipeline that pumps gas to South Ossetia. "According to our estimates, Georgia could repair the problem very quickly," Lavrov told the Federation Council. After Lavrov's statement, a Georgian minister said the damaged pipeline was located in a village occupied by Russian soldiers. "If they allow us to enter, we are ready to repair it," said Georgian Energy Minister Aleko Khetaguri. "But first they must remove their troops. Only then are we ready to consider resuming gas supplies to South Ossetia."